Fed Chair Touts 'Much Improved' Economy 1 Year After Stocks Hit Pandemic-Era Low

Mar 23, 2021
Originally published on March 23, 2021 4:59 am

Updated at 10 a.m. ET

The economy is staging a strong but still incomplete recovery, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is set to tell Congress on Tuesday, exactly a year after stock markets hit their lowest level during the pandemic.

The economy is now "much improved," Powell is set to say according to prepared remarks, thanks to "swift and vigorous action" by Congress and the central bank to avoid an even more crippling downturn.

But Powell is also set to say "the recovery is far from complete."

Powell is appearing before a House committee Tuesday, along with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. They will then appear before a Senate panel on Wednesday.

Yellen is set to add a similar note of cautious optimism in her prepared testimony.

"While we're seeing signs of recovery, we should be clear-eyed about the hole we're digging out of," she's expected to say. "The country is still down nearly 10 million jobs from its pre-pandemic peak."

Yellen and Powell's appearances on Tuesday come a year after stock indexes hit their lowest point after weeks of turmoil over fears of a new virus that was then starting to spread around the world

Since then, the stock market has come roaring back. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index are up 80% from their lows last March. The Nasdaq composite index has more than doubled.

Congress and the Fed have pumped trillions of dollars into the economy over the past year, including the $1.9 trillion relief package this month, providing a lifeline to both families and businesses.

"With the passage of the Rescue Plan, I am confident that people will reach the other side of this pandemic with the foundations of their lives intact," Yellen is expected to say. "And I believe they will be met there by a growing economy. In fact, I think we may see a return to full employment next year."

Powell added the central bank "will continue to provide the economy the support that it needs for as long as it takes."

After coming to a near standstill over the winter, hiring picked up last month. A new round of $1,400 relief payments should boost consumers' spending power, as an improving public health situation offers the promise of increased travel and entertainment options later this year.

"The recovery has progressed more quickly than generally expected and looks to be strengthening," Powell said in the prepared remarks.

Fed officials have raised their forecast for economic growth this year to 6.5%, which would be the fastest pace in nearly four decades.

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