Ahead of jobs report, Yellen says 100,000 would cover new entrants

Thu Dec 3, 2015 4:40pm EST
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By Howard Schneider and Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, speaking the day before a key employment report, said on Thursday the U.S. economy needs to add fewer than 100,000 jobs a month to cover new entrants to the workforce, setting an implicit floor for the jobs growth policymakers want to see.

"To simply provide jobs for those who are newly entering the labor force probably requires under 100,000 jobs per month," with anything above that helping "absorb" those who are unemployed, discouraged or had dropped out of the labor market, Yellen, who was speaking before Congress' Joint Economic Committee, said in a question and answer session.

The November jobs report is scheduled for release at 0830 EST (1330 GMT) Friday, providing a last key bit of economic data for the Fed before a policy meeting on Dec 15-16 that may see the first U.S. interest rate increase in a decade.

Yellen, in a question on a separate issue, said the United States may be "close to the point at which we should be raising" a benchmark interest rate that has been held near zero since the onset of the financial crisis seven years ago. Though the pivotal policy meeting is less than two weeks away, she said that will still hinge on whether incoming information supports the Fed's outlook.

Job creation has been averaging around 200,000 a month this year, a figure Yellen said was "quite a bit" above the number needed to continue absorbing slack in the labor market.

Though unemployment at 5 percent is at or near the level many policymakers consider to be full employment, Yellen said that high levels of discouraged workers, part-time employment and other job market measures show there is still room for progress.

Yellen in her testimony was generally upbeat, spelling out how the economy has largely met the criteria the Fed has set for its first rate hike. Unemployment is low, growth continues at a modest pace, and Yellen said she is confident inflation will return to the Fed's target over time.

Though weak global growth remains a drag, she said the United States is far more dependent on domestic consumption and investment which, at least so far, is strong enough to produce growth that is slightly above trend.   Continued...

U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen addresses the Economic Club of Washington in Washington December 2, 2015.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts