WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More research is needed to understand what policies allow people to move up the economic ladder and what holds them back, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Thursday, returning to a controversial topic for the U.S. central bank.
Yellen said that research may provide evidence of what allows people to get ahead, and to predict how individual circumstances impact income inequality.
"It would also be beneficial to understand whether any policies may hold people back or discourage upward mobility," Yellen said in prepared remarks for a speech to a Fed research conference here on economic mobility.
Yellen tackled the issue of income inequality in a speech in Boston last October, saying she was "greatly concerned" about income disparity in the United States.
Republican lawmakers seized on that speech, saying it was a partisan view meant to help Democrats in the November elections, with little relevance to the central bank's responsibility.
That view resurfaced during Yellen's semi-annual appearance in front of Congress in February, with Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives accusing the Fed chief of using the inequality issue to side with Democrats.
Yellen fiercely defended her stance, saying that previous Fed leaders had addressed the issue of wealth inequality and that it remained an important economic view.
"I am not making political statements. I am discussing a significant problem that faces America," Yellen said during the House hearing.
On Thursday, she struck a more delicate tone.
"Research could help us better understand how much mobility at the individual level matters for overall growth in productivity and economic output," Yellen said in her remarks.
Reporting by Michael Flaherty; Editing by Paul Simao