Jerome Powell strikes a hopeful tone but emphasizes the pandemic’s uneven costs.

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, struck a hopeful tone about the United States economy in a speech on Monday — but he emphasized that the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately harmed vulnerable communities.

“While some countries are still suffering terribly in the grip of Covid-19, the economic outlook here in the United States has clearly brightened,” Mr. Powell said. And in the United States, “lives and livelihoods have been affected in ways that vary from person to person, family to family, and community to community.”

Mr. Powell used the remarks to preview an upcoming Fed report that will show how Black and Hispanic workers lost jobs at a greater rate in pandemic lockdowns and how the pandemic pushed mothers out of the labor force and made it harder for people without college degrees to hang onto work.

Among the statistics he highlighted from the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking, which he said will be released later this month:

  • About 20 percent of adults in their prime working years without a bachelor’s degree were laid off last year, compared to 12 percent of college-educated workers.

  • More than 20 percent of Black and Hispanic prime-age workers were laid off in 2020, versus 14 percent of white workers.

  • Roughly 22 percent of parents were not working or were working less thanks to child-care and school disruptions.

  • About 36 percent of Black mothers, and 30 percent of and Hispanic mothers, were not working or were working less.

“The Fed is focused on these longstanding disparities because they weigh on the productive capacity of our economy,” Mr. Powell said. “We will only reach our full potential when everyone can contribute to, and share in, the benefits of prosperity.”

Mr. Powell said that while achieving an equitable economy is the job of many parts of government, the Fed has a role to play with both its economic tools and in its bank supervision and community development work.

“Those who have historically been left behind stand the best chance of prospering in a strong economy with plentiful job opportunities,” Mr. Powell said. “We see our robust supervisory approach as critical to addressing racial discrimination, which can limit consumers’ ability to improve their economic circumstances.”


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