To determine if inflation is more than a temporary matter, Ms. Yellen is monitoring two key metrics: inflation expectations and wage increases for low-paid workers. Rising pay for the lowest-wage workers could potentially lead to “an inflationary trend” if there is broad excess demand for workers in the labor market, she warned.
“We don’t want a situation of prolonged excess demand in the economy that leads to wage and price pressures that build and become endemic,” Ms. Yellen said. “Looking at wage increases, you can have a wage price spiral, so you need to be careful.”
She added: “I do not see that happening now.”
At the G7 meeting, Ms. Yellen raised eyebrows when she said that inflation could remain higher for the rest of the year, with rates around 3 percent. However, in the interview, she said that the comment was misinterpreted. She said that she expected inflation rates to be elevated for the next few months but then settle down to be consistent with the 2 percent rate that is the Federal Reserve’s long-term target.
“I don’t see any evidence that inflation expectations are getting out of control,” Ms. Yellen said.
Critics have suggested that the Biden administration’s extension of pandemic unemployment insurance is fueling the labor shortage by encouraging workers to stay at home and collect generous benefits. At least 20 states have moved to cut off benefits early to encourage people to go back to work.
Ms. Yellen said the difference in how states were handling jobless benefits could shed new light on the dynamic, but that she still saw no evidence that the supplement was slowing job creation. She pointed to a lack of child care and positions that were permanently lost because of the pandemic as the more probable reason that employers in some sectors were struggling to find staff.
“We wanted to support people,” Ms. Yellen said. “This isn’t something that should be in place forever.”
Although the economy is improving, Ms. Yellen said that seven million jobs that were lost since the pandemic still had not been restored. Some of them might never come back.
“We’re not in a tight labor market at this point,” she said.