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2020 Economic Commentaries

  • How Well Does the Cleveland Fed’s Systemic Risk Indicator Predict Stress?

    Ben R. Craig


    A number of financial stress measures were developed after the financial crisis of 2007–2009 in the hope that they could provide regulators with advance warning of conditions that might warrant a corrective response. The Cleveland Fed’s systemic risk indicator is one such measure. This Commentary provides a review of the SRI’s performance from 2001 to 2020 and finds that it has performed well, providing a reliable, valid, and timely signal of elevated levels of financial system stress. Read More

  • Forward Guidance during the Pandemic: Has It Changed the Public’s Expectations?

    Wesley Janson Chengcheng Jia


    In responding to the COVID-19 crisis, the Federal Reserve has both lowered the federal funds rate and provided forward guidance. We study whether the forward guidance given with the April and June 2020 FOMC meetings altered the public’s expectations of future policy rates, GDP growth, and inflation. We find that forward guidance was effective in altering the public’s expectations about future policy rates if it was accompanied by an SEP but not expectations about economic fundamentals. We suggest that the difference might be explained by FOMC statements being interpretable in two different ways and the public not having a dominant view on which interpretation was intended. Read More

  • Short-Time Compensation: An Alternative to Layoffs during COVID-19

    Pawel Krolikowski Anna Weixel


    We discuss the costs and benefits of short-time compensation (STC), an unemployment insurance program that allows workers with temporarily reduced hours to receive some unemployment insurance benefits. We describe the provisions for STC in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 and the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and report the utilization of STC before and after these acts. The number of states with STC programs has remained unchanged at 27 since the beginning of the pandemic, but STC utilization has recently risen to unprecedented levels, driven largely by increases in Michigan and Washington. However, these increases are small relative to increases in Germany’s popular Kurzarbeit program, suggesting that the United States’ STC program may still have scope for expansion. Read More

  • Subprime May Not Have Caused the 2000s Housing Crisis: Evidence from Cleveland, Ohio

    Lara Loewenstein


    During the 2000s housing bust, Cleveland’s Slavic Village was dubbed “ground zero of the foreclosure crisis” by the national media. Despite this, during the preceding housing boom Cleveland had stable house price growth and relatively low mortgage debt growth, a stark contrast to circumstances in areas such as California that had exceptionally high house price and mortgage debt growth. What explains the relatively minor housing boom and perceived sharp downturn in Cleveland? In this Commentary I show that while subprime debt was a prominent source of debt in Cleveland and especially in its Slavic Village neighborhood during the 2000s, it is difficult to peg subprime debt as playing a causal role in the subsequent foreclosure crisis. Read More

  • Why Are Headline PCE and Median PCE Inflations So Far Apart?

    Daniel R. Carroll Ross Cohen-Kristiansen


    Mean (or headline) PCE inflation has typically fallen below median PCE inflation, and since 2012 the difference has been large. To understand the reasons for this trend, we investigate which components of the headline measure are contributing to the difference. We find that energy components, which frequently undergo wide price swings, and electronics, which have been steadily decreasing in price for decades, explain most of the difference between the two inflation measures. We argue that the outsized impacts of such components on headline PCE inflation reinforce the need for policymakers to consider both headline and median PCE inflation measures. Read More

  • Improving Epidemic Modeling with Networks

    Ben R. Craig Tom Phelan Jan-Peter Siedlarek Jared Steinberg


    Many of the models used to track, forecast, and inform the response to epidemics such as COVID-19 assume that everyone has an equal chance of encountering those who are infected with a disease. But this assumption does not reflect the fact that individuals interact mostly within much narrower groups. We argue that incorporating a network perspective, which accounts for patterns of real-world interactions, into epidemiological models provides useful insights into the spread of infectious diseases. Read More

  • Financial Stability: Risks, Resilience, and Policy

    Joseph G. Haubrich


    As the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout continue, policymakers keep a watchful eye on the stability of the financial system. Having learned many lessons from the financial crisis of 2007–2009, they may again turn to that crisis for insights into potential vulnerabilities emerging in the financial sector and ways to make financial markets and institutions more resilient to shocks. At a recent conference on financial stability, 12 papers and two keynotes explored this ground. This Commentary summarizes the papers’ findings and the keynotes. Read More

  • Assessing Layoffs in Four Midwestern States during the Pandemic Recession

    Rubén Hernández-Murillo Pawel Krolikowski


    We use WARN data to assess layoffs in four Midwestern states during the current pandemic-induced recession—Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The data come from the advance layoff notices filed under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. We find that the number of workers affected by layoff announcements rose sharply in the second half of March and April, and unexpected changes in economic conditions meant that workers received little advance notice before layoff. Layoff announcements have affected workers across these four states, and workers in mining and leisure and hospitality have been affected the most. Most recently, the number of workers affected by WARN notices has almost returned to prerecession levels. Read More

  • Consumers and COVID-19: Survey Results on Mask-Wearing Behaviors and Beliefs

    Edward S. Knotek II Raphael Schoenle Alexander Dietrich Gernot Müller Kristian Ove R. Myrseth Michael Weber


    Masks or cloth face coverings have the potential to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 without greatly disrupting economic activity if they are widely used. To assess the state of mask wearing, we surveyed US consumers about their recent and prospective mask-wearing behavior. We find that most respondents are wearing masks in public but that some respondents are less likely to follow social-distancing guidelines while doing so, indicating a potential tradeoff between two of the recommended methods that jointly reduce coronavirus transmission. While most respondents indicated that they were extremely likely to wear a mask if required by public authorities, the reported likelihood is strongly dependent on age and perceived mask efficacy. Read More

  • How Aggregation Matters for Measured Wage Growth

    Michael Morris Robert Rich Joseph Tracy


    Wage growth is often measured by the change in average hourly earnings (AHE), a gauge of overall wages that aggregates information on earnings and hours worked across individuals. A close look at this aggregation method demonstrates that AHE growth reflects disproportionately the profile of high-earning workers who typically display lower and less cyclically sensitive wage growth. Using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), we adopt a different aggregation method and compute wage growth as the average of individuals’ wage growth. The analysis indicates that the CPS measure of average wage growth is significantly higher than AHE growth and that it displays a more meaningful nonlinear relationship with the Congressional Budget Office’s unemployment gap. Last, our findings do not support the claim that there was hidden slack in the labor market during the recent expansion that was restraining wage growth. Read More

  • Measuring Deaths from COVID-19

    Dionissi Aliprantis Kristen Tauber


    Medical data are new to the analyses and deliberations of Federal Reserve monetary policymakers, but such data are now of primary importance to policymakers who need to understand the virus’s trajectory to assess economic conditions and address the virus’s impacts on the economy. The number of deaths caused by COVID-19 is one key metric that is often referred to, but as with other COVID metrics, it is a challenge to measure accurately. We discuss the issues involved in measuring COVID-19 deaths and argue that the change in the number of directly observed COVID-19 deaths is the most reliable and timely approach when using deaths to judge the trajectory of the pandemic in the United States, which is critical given the current inconsistencies in testing and limitations of hospitalization data. Read More

  • The Effect of the 2017 Tax Reform on Investment

    Filippo Occhino


    The 2017 tax reform affected investment through many channels. I use a macroeconomic model to estimate the overall effect. That estimate suggests that, because the different provisions worked in different directions, the initial impact of the tax reform on investment was small. The same model predicts that the tax reform will hold investment down in the medium term. Read More

  • A Growth-Augmented Phillips Curve

    Kristen Tauber Willem Van Zandweghe


    Empirical studies find that the link between inflation and economic slack has weakened in recent decades, a development that could hamper monetary policymakers as they aim to achieve their inflation objective. We show that while the role of economic slack has diminished, economic growth has become a significant driver of inflation dynamics, indicating that the link between inflation and economic activity remains but the relevant gauge of activity has changed. The new evidence suggests that the COVID-19-related recession could induce substantial disinflationary pressure. Read More

  • The Information Effect of Monetary Policy: Self-Defeating or Optimal?

    Wesley Janson Chengcheng Jia


    As the Federal Reserve has become more transparent about its decisions on the federal funds target rate, the general public has begun to regard the rate as not only a benchmark interest rate, but also as a signal about the state of the economy. However, the specific information considered by the public to be revealed is not clearly understood. We investigate this question and find that the information revealed by monetary policy decisions is regarding future output growth, not inflation, and that such an information effect is theoretically optimal and does not make interest-rate policies self-defeating. Read More

  • Inflation: Drivers and Dynamics | 2019 CEBRA Annual Meeting Session Summary

    Timo Haber Edward S. Knotek II Julio Ortiz Damjan Pfajfar Robert Rich Raphael Schoenle Jean-Paul L'Huillier


    The relationship between the Phillips curve and inflation has become weaker over time, producing questions regarding how policymakers might connect inflation to the rest of the economy. Presentations given during the “Inflation: Drivers and Dynamics” session of the Central Bank Research Association’s annual meeting focused on the intersection of monetary policy and inflation dynamics to examine the ways in which policy might impact inflation and related expectations and processes. This Economic Commentary summarizes the papers presented during this session. Read More

  • The 1918 Flu and COVID-19 Pandemics: Different Patients, Different Economy

    Ross Cohen-Kristiansen Roberto Pinheiro


    Many observers seeking historical precedent for COVID-19 draw on the 1918 influenza pandemic. In this Commentary, we highlight the differences between the 1918 flu and COVID-19 pandemics in terms of the most significantly affected populations. We also show key differences in the US economy in the late 1910s and now. Not only did the 1918 influenza virus primarily affect significantly younger cohorts, but the US economy’s industry and geographic distributions were notably different at the time compared to today’s. Consequently, caution is needed when using the 1918 influenza pandemic as a guideline for implementing and evaluating policy responses to COVID-19. Read More

  • Intergenerational Homeownership and Mortgage Distress

    Nicholas Fritsch Rawley Z. Heimer


    Rates of US homeownership have declined in the past two decades, and the decline has been especially pronounced for young adults. Motivated by recent research that explores the ways in which personal experiences can affect financial attitudes and beliefs, we explore whether the negative homeownership experiences of parents during the 2008 financial crisis could have caused their children to view homeownership less favorably. We find that parental mortgage distress negatively correlates with the probability that a child will purchase a home, and we explore various channels through which this link may occur. Read More

  • Lessons on the Economics of Pandemics from Recent Research

    Sewon Hur Michael Jenuwine


    The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a dual public health and economic crisis. Many economic studies in the past few months have explored the relationship between the spread of disease and economic activity, the role for government intervention in the crisis, and the effectiveness of testing and containment policies. This Commentary summarizes the methods and findings of a number of these studies. The economic research conducted to date shows that adequate testing and selective containment measures can be effective in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the absence of adequate testing capabilities, optimal interventions involve social distancing and other lockdown measures. Read More

  • The Labor-Market Skills of Foreign-born Workers in the United States, 2007–2017

    Rubén Hernández-Murillo


    Various measures of the labor-market skills of foreign-born workers have improved during the past decade. The largest gains are concentrated among immigrants from Mexico, who traditionally have shown the lowest skill levels among foreign-born workers. The data suggest that the apparent increase in skills is the result of a shift in the distribution of immigrants coming to the United States, with increased immigration of workers from Asia and a precipitous decline in immigration of workers from Mexico. Read More

  • The Unemployment Cost of COVID-19: How High and How Long?

    Ayşegül Şahin Murat Tasci Jin Yan


    We use flows into and out of unemployment to estimate the unemployment rate over the next year. This approach produces less stark projections for the unemployment rate over the course of the next year than some of the more alarming projections that have been reported. Using our approach and assuming that the severest social-distancing measures will be lifted in June, we estimate that the unemployment rate will peak in May at about 16 percent but gradually decline thereafter and end the year at 7.5 percent. Read More

  • Consumers and COVID-19: A Real-Time Survey

    Edward S. Knotek II Raphael Schoenle Alexander Dietrich Keith Kuester Gernot Müller Kristian Ove R. Myrseth Michael Weber


    We summarize the results from an ongoing survey that asks consumers questions related to the recent coronavirus outbreak, including their expectations for how the economy is likely to be affected by the outbreak and how their own behavior has changed in response to it. The survey began in early March, providing a window into how consumers’ responses have evolved in real time since the early days of the acknowledged spread of COVID-19 in the United States. In updating and charting the survey’s findings on the Cleveland Fed’s website going forward, we seek to inform policymakers and researchers about consumers’ beliefs during a time of high uncertainty and unprecedented policy responses. Read More

  • Credit Market Frictions, Business Cycles, and Monetary Policy: The Research Contributions of Charles Carlstrom and Timothy Fuerst

    Todd E. Clark Matthius Paustian Eric Sims


    Charles Carlstrom and Timothy Fuerst were prolific and prominent research economists who, until their untimely deaths a few years ago, were long-associated with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Their myriad contributions include the incorporation of financial market imperfections into macroeconomic models and the study of optimal monetary policy. We provide an overview of their work and summarize a few key themes from a research conference held in their honor. Read More

  • The CPI–PCEPI Inflation Differential: Causes and Prospects

    Wesley Janson Randal J. Verbrugge Carola Conces Binder


    The Federal Open Market Committee’s inflation target is stated in terms of the personal consumption expenditures price index (PCEPI). The PCEPI, like the consumer price index (CPI), measures inflation in the expenditures of households, but these indexes differ in purpose, scope, and construction. Notably, since the CPI is used as the reference rate for numerous financial contracts, one can derive implied longer-run CPI inflation forecasts from financial contracts. Such forecasts are widely reported. But if policymakers are to use these forecasts to guide their pursuit of the inflation target, they need to translate these CPI inflation forecasts into corresponding implied PCEPI forecasts. Since 1978, CPI inflation has averaged 0.3 percentage points above PCEPI inflation, but this differential has varied significantly over time. In this Commentary, we explain why, investigate a key historical episode, and provide an updated estimate of the likely differential going forward. Read More

  • A Brief History of Bank Capital Requirements in the United States

    Joseph G. Haubrich


    Modern capital requirements can appear to be overly complex, but they reflect centuries of practical experience, compromises between different regulators, and legal and financial systems that developed over time. This Commentary provides a historical perspective on current discussions of capital requirements by looking at how the understanding of bank capital and the regulations regarding its use have changed over time. Read More

  • Do Affirmative Action Bans Cause Students to Move Across State Lines to Attend College?

    Peter L. Hinrichs


    This Economic Commentary studies whether statewide bans on affirmative action in admission to public universities cause students to move to a new state to attend college. Regression results using data from the decennial census and the American Community Survey provide little evidence that affirmative action bans result in migration across state lines to attend college. In addition to being of direct interest, these results provide a check on earlier research that treats different states roughly as separate higher education markets. Read More

  • Is the Middle Class Worse Off Than It Used to Be?

    Emily Dohrman Bruce Fallick


    We analyze how median real incomes in the United States have changed since 1980 under a definition of the middle class that adjusts for changes in demographics. We find that failing to adjust for demographic shifts in the population relating to age, race, and education can indicate a more positive outlook than is truly the case. We also find that the real median incomes of today’s middle class are somewhat higher than they used to be, particularly for households headed by two adults. We find, as in prior research, that prices for housing, healthcare, and education have risen more than middle-class incomes, while prices for transportation, food, and recreation have risen less than middle-class incomes. Read More

  • Revisiting Wage Growth after the Recession

    Roberto Pinheiro Meifeng Yang


    In this Commentary, we show that realized wage growth since 2015 has mostly been at a rate that would be expected given observed rates of inflation and labor productivity growth. Moreover, labor productivity growth has been in line with its potential over the same period. This picture of the post-recession recovery of wages is very different from the one we observed in an earlier analysis, when all we had were data up through the end of 2015. The reasons underlying the difference are large revisions in labor productivity data and upticks in the inflation rate and labor productivity growth since our last report. Read More

  • A Forecasting Assessment of Market-Based PCE Inflation

    Mark Bognanni


    This article explores the potential for market-based inflation measures to improve inflation forecasting. To do so, I compare the pseudo-real time forecasting performance of a suite of models for forecasting total or “headline” PCE inflation over the short and medium run. In the forecasting exercise, a simple model using only market-based core PCE inflation showed the best forecasting performance at all horizons. Read More