News Column

Jobs Numbers Put Yellen in Delicate Spot

January 14, 2014

Isaac Cohen --

janet yellen
Janet Yellen (file photo)

The creation of only 74,000 new nonagricultural jobs last December was a disappointment, in contrast with the 240,000 created in November and the average monthly job creation of 183,000 of the last two years.

True, in December the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent to 6.7 percent, but not because of new hiring. It was due to a decrease of 347,000 persons in the labor force.

This pushed back the percentage of participation in the labor force to the October level of 62.8 percent, the lowest level since 1978.

At 6.7 percent, the unemployment rate is approaching the threshold indicated by the central bank to start considering modifying the prevailing close to zero interest rate.

As clarified by the departing chair of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, the 6.5 percent unemployment figure is not an automatic trigger. It is a threshold that will signal the start of the internal debate at the central bank on increasing interest rates.

However, conducting this debate on the tools applied by the central bank to stimulate the economy, such as bond purchases and interest rates close to zero, will be the main responsibility of incoming Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

She has the enormous responsibility of choosing the right time to start tightening monetary policy without hindering the economic recovery.


Isaac Cohen is an international analyst and consultant, a commentator on economic and financial issues for CNN en Español TV and radio, and a former director, UNECLAC Washington Office.

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