Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said today in a speech to southern U.S. state lawmakers in Charleston, South Carolina that rising wages will probably increase household spending in the next few quarters, even as “two years of job losses” drag down consumer confidence.
From the Fed: “While the support to economic activity from stimulative fiscal policies and firms’ restocking of their inventories will diminish over time, rising demand from households and businesses should help sustain growth. In particular, in the household sector, growth in real consumer spending seems likely to pick up in coming quarters from its recent modest pace, supported by gains in income and improving credit conditions. In the business sector, investment in equipment and software has been increasing rapidly, in part as a result of the deferral of capital outlays during the downturn and the need of many businesses to replace aging equipment. At the same time, rising U.S. exports, reflecting the expansion of the global economy and the recovery of world trade, have helped foster growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector.
To be sure, notable restraints on the recovery persist. The housing market has remained weak, with the overhang of vacant or foreclosed houses weighing on home prices and new construction. Similarly, poor economic fundamentals and tight credit are holding back investment in nonresidential structures, such as office buildings, hotels, and shopping malls.
Importantly, the slow recovery in the labor market and the attendant uncertainty about job prospects are weighing on household confidence and spending. After two years of job losses, private payrolls expanded at an average of about 100,000 per month during the first half of this year, an improvement but still a pace insufficient to reduce the unemployment rate materially. In all likelihood, significant time will be required to restore the nearly 8-1/2 million jobs that were lost over 2008 and 2009. Moreover, nearly half of the unemployed have been out of work for longer than six months.”