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Yellen: “You don“t have a recession“ when U.S. unemployment at 53-year low


U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends media briefing ahead of bilateral talks with South Africa’s Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana (not pictured), at the treasury offices in Pretoria, South Africa, January 26, 2023. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday said she saw a path for avoiding a U.S. recession, with inflation coming down significantly and the economy remaining strong, given the strength of the U.S. labor market.

“You don’t have a recession when you have 500,000 jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in more than 50 years,” Yellen told ABC’s Good Morning America program.

“What I see is a path in which inflation is declining significantly and the economy is remaining strong.”

Yellen said inflation remained too high, but it had been falling for the past six months and could decline significantly given measures adopted by the Biden administration, including steps to reduce the cost of gasoline and prescription drugs.

U.S. Labor Department data released Friday showed job growth accelerated sharply in January, with nonfarm payrolls up by 517,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropping to a 53-1/2-year low of 3.4%.

The strength in hiring, which occurred despite layoffs in the technology sector, reduced market expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve was close to pausing its monetary policy tightening cycle.

Yellen told ABC that reducing inflation remained Biden’s top priority, but the U.S. economy was proving “strong and resilient.”

Three separate pieces of legislation – the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS Act and a massive infrastructure law – would all help drive inflation down, along with a price cap imposed on the cost of Russia oil, she said.

Yellen called on Congress to raise the U.S. debt limit, warning that failure to do so would produce “an economic and financial catastrophe.”

“While sometimes we’ve gone up to the wire, it’s something that Congress has always recognized as their responsibility and needs to do again.”

The U.S. government hit its $31.4 trillion debt ceiling last month, prompting the Treasury Department to warn that it may not be able to stave off default past early June.

Republican U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden met last week for talks on raising the debt limit and have agreed to meet again, but the standoff has unsettled markets.