Ever since the beginning of the financial crisis and quantitative easing, the question has been before us: How can the Federal Reserve maintain zero interest rates for banks and negative real interest rates for savers and bond holders when the US government is adding $1.5 trillion to the national debt every year via its budget deficits? Not long ago the Fed announced that it was going to continue this policy for another 2 or 3 years. Indeed, the Fed is locked into the policy. Without the artificially low interest rates, the debt service on the national debt would be so large that it would raise questions about the US Treasury’s credit rating and the viability of the dollar, and the trillions of dollars in Interest Rate Swaps and other derivatives would come unglued.
In other words, financial deregulation leading to Wall Street’s gambles, the US government’s decision to bail out the banks and to keep them afloat, and the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy have put the economic future of the US and its currency in an untenable and dangerous position. It will not be possible to continue to flood the bond markets with $1.5 trillion in new issues each year when the interest rate on the bonds is less than the rate of inflation. Everyone who purchases a Treasury bond is purchasing a depreciating asset. Moreover, the capital risk of investing in Treasuries is very high. The low interest rate means that the price paid for the bond is very high. A rise in interest rates, which must come sooner or later, will collapse the price of the bonds and inflict capital losses on bond holders, both domestic and foreign.
The question is: when is sooner or later? The purpose of this article is to examine that question.
The national unemployment rate gets lots of attention, and lately more attention has been paid to the workforce participation rate since more Americans have given up looking for a job, but we can also see that an astounding 100 million Americans don’t have jobs.
Specifically, these are people who are part of the civilian over-16 non-institutional population who are either unemployed or not part of the workforce. According to the April jobs report, the number of jobless American stood at 100.9 million.
That’s an all-time record and it’s an increase of 26.2 million over the last 12 years. It’s as if we absorbed the entire adult population of Canada and not a single person had a job.
The numbers are staggering. The jobs-to-population ratio peaked 12 years ago. If we were to have the same ratio today, we would need 15.3 million more jobs, or 23.7 million fewer people.
(Note: The chart above is the Civilian Over-16 Non-Institutional Population minus the seasonally adjusted Civilian Workforce.)
Phi Beta Iota: As a number, that is almost precisely half the eligible voters in the USA.