Fed chairman says central bank concerned about rural poverty

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday that the U.S. economy overall is strong but many rural areas are falling farther behind.

In remarks Thursday to a rural housing conference, Powell said unemployment in the poorest rural counties is more than double the national average last year. This while those employed or looking for jobs in their prime working years in rural areas has increasingly lagged during the current expansion.

To address this problem, the Fed is supporting a number of initiatives, Powell said. These range from sponsoring regional forums to spur rural economic development to supporting efforts to advance internet access in low-income rural areas.

The Fed is committed to pursuing ways to ensure that the current economic upturn benefits areas that have been left behind, he said.

“While the economy is strong overall, we recognize that some communities have yet to feel the full benefits of the ongoing expansion,” Powell said. “We are conducting research, collaborating with communities and assessing financial regulations so that our nation’s current prosperity will benefit small towns and cities alike.”

In his remarks, Powell did not address the Fed’s interest rate policies. The central bank has boosted rates three times so far this year and is expected to raise rates a fourth time later this month.

An early market plunge Thursday briefly knocked more than 700 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average as the arrest of a senior Chinese technology executive threatened to cause another flare-up in tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The sell-off eased by late afternoon, however, after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Fed is considering breaking with its current approach of steady interest rate hikes, favoring a wait-and-see approach. That was a relief to investors worried that the central bank might raise interest rates too fast, which could choke off economic growth.

While many economists are still looking for four rate hikes this year, the pace of Fed hikes in 2019 has been called into question by recent comments from some Fed officials. These officials have indicated they believe the central bank is getting close to deciding to hit pause on further hikes to assess the impact the credit tightening is having on the economy.