Economic Letter

Brief summaries of SF Fed economic research that explain in reader-friendly terms what our work means for the people we serve.

  • How Quickly Do Prices Respond to Monetary Policy?


    Zoë Arnaut, Leila Bengali

    With inflation still above the Federal Reserve’s 2% objective, there is renewed interest in understanding how quickly federal funds rate hikes typically affect inflation. Beyond monetary policy’s well-known lagged effect on the economy overall, new analysis highlights that not all prices respond with the same strength or speed. Results suggest that inflation for the most responsive categories of goods and services has come down substantially from recent highs, likely due in part to more restrictive monetary policy. As a result, the contributions of these categories to overall inflation have fallen.

  • How Do Periods of Inflation, Recession Affect Real Earnings?


    Leila Bengali, Evgeniya Duzhak

    Households can lose spending power if they suffer job losses during recessions or when the cost of living rises at times of high inflation. One way to assess the historical roles these two factors have played in eroding economy-wide earnings is by breaking down the cumulative growth in inflation-adjusted household earnings into three components: nominal earnings growth, inflation, and employment growth. Analyzing the results suggests that periods of high inflation may undermine economy-wide real earnings growth more than mild recessions.

  • To Retire or Keep Working after a Pandemic?


    Brandon Miskanic, Nicolas Petrosky-Nadeau, Cindy Zhao

    Workers age 55 and older left the labor force in large numbers following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Four years later, participation within this age group has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, despite the strongest labor market in decades. This has resulted in an estimated shortfall of nearly 2 million workers. Analysis shows that the participation shortfall is concentrated among workers in this age group without a college degree and can be explained by increased and growing retirement rates for this group, above pre-pandemic trends.

  • Monetary Policy and Financial Conditions


    Zoë Arnaut, Michael Bauer

    Financial conditions indexes summarize a broad range of financial indicators with the goal of measuring how financial markets affect economic activity. Evidence from event studies with high-frequency data supports the view that monetary policy is a key driver of financial conditions. The effects are evident, not only around monetary policy announcements but also, indirectly, around macroeconomic data releases. The impact of inflation surprises on financial conditions has strengthened over the past year, likely due to the perceived implications for the future course of monetary policy.

  • The Rise and Fall of Pandemic Excess Wealth


    Hamza Abdelrahman, Luiz Edgard Oliveira, Adam Hale Shapiro

    U.S. households accumulated significantly more wealth following the pandemic onset than would have been expected without the pandemic shock. Overall excess household wealth—measured as households’ inflation-adjusted net worth beyond pre-pandemic projections—peaked in late 2021 at $13 trillion, then rapidly fell to zero in late 2022, where it broadly remained through the third quarter of 2023. This rise and fall can be attributed mainly to financial assets, particularly equity holdings. Similarly, real liquid asset holdings currently sit below pre-pandemic projections despite a persistent rise in checking account balances.

  • Price Stability Built to Last


    Mary C. Daly

    The economy is healthy and price stability is within sight. But progress is not victory, and considerable uncertainty and risks remain. To finish the job will take fortitude and patience, along with the agility to respond as the economy evolves. The following is adapted from the keynote address by the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco at the 40th Annual NABE Economic Policy Conference in Washington, DC, on February 16.

  • The Long-Run Fiscal Outlook in the United States


    Brigid Meisenbacher, Daniel J. Wilson

    The federal debt as a share of U.S. GDP is nearing its historical high from World War II. This ratio fell sharply over the three decades after World War II due to a primary surplus, rapid economic growth, and low interest rates. Projections for the coming three decades point to a persistent primary deficit without major reforms to mandatory spending programs or higher taxes. Thus, the rates of interest and economic growth will be crucial for determining the long-run debt-to-GDP ratio’s evolution.

  • Why Is Prime-Age Labor Force Participation So High?


    Deepika Baskar Prabhakar, Robert G. Valletta

    The labor force participation (LFP) rate for prime-age workers surged from early 2021 through early 2023, especially for women. This helped reduce the large shortfall of available workers relative to available jobs that emerged during the recovery from the pandemic. Analysis of state labor markets indicates that the cyclical response of prime-age LFP was much more pronounced during the two most recent business cycles than in prior ones. This state-level relationship weakened in 2023, however, suggesting that the cyclical gains in prime-age LFP are winding down.

  • Does Working from Home Boost Productivity Growth?


    John G. Fernald, Ethan Goode, Huiyu Li, Brigid Meisenbacher

    An enduring consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is a notable shift toward remote and hybrid work. This has raised questions regarding whether the shift had a significant effect on the growth rate of U.S. productivity. Analyzing the relationship between GDP per hour growth and the ability to telework across industries shows that industries that are more adaptable to remote work did not experience a bigger decline or boost in productivity growth since 2020 than less adaptable industries. Thus, teleworking most likely has neither substantially held back nor boosted productivity growth.

  • Extreme Weather and Financial Market Uncertainty


    Augustus Kmetz, Mathias S. Kruttli, Brigitte Roth Tran, Sumudu W. Watugala, Alan Yan

    Extreme weather can have negative, minimal, or even positive effects on business performance—creating significant uncertainty about outcomes for those businesses. Financial markets show heightened uncertainty among investors for companies that have been hit by hurricanes. This uncertainty persists for several months after a hurricane’s landfall, as reflected by continued discussion of hurricanes in analyst calls. Comparing expected volatility to actual volatility shows that markets have underreacted to the uncertainty caused by hurricanes. After Hurricane Sandy, a particularly salient hurricane for investors, this market underreaction appears to have diminished.