When it comes to the economy, more is usually better.
Bigger job gains, faster wage growth and more consumer spending are all, in normal times, signs of a healthy economy. Growth might not be sufficient to ensure widespread prosperity, but it is necessary — making any loss of momentum a worrying sign that the economy could be losing steam or, worse, headed into a recession.
But these are not normal times. With nearly twice as many open jobs as available workers and companies struggling to meet record demand, many economists and policymakers argue that what the economy needs right now is not more, but less — less hiring, less wage growth and above all less inflation, which is running at its fastest pace in four decades.
Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, has called the labor market “unsustainably hot,” and the central bank is raising interest rates to try to cool it. President Biden, who met with Mr. Powell on Tuesday, wrote in an opinion article this week in The Wall Street Journal that a slowdown in job creation “won’t be a cause for concern” but would rather be “a sign that we are successfully moving into the next phase of recovery.”
“We want a full and sustainable recovery,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Fed economist who has studied the government’s economic policy response to the pandemic. “The reason that we can’t take the victory lap right now on the recovery — the reason it is incomplete — is because inflation is too high.”
But a cooling economy carries its own risks. Despite inflation, the recovery from the pandemic recession has been among the strongest on record, with unemployment falling rapidly and incomes rebounding fastest for those at the bottom. If the recovery slows too much, it could undo much of that progress.
“That’s the needle we’re trying to thread right now,” said Harry J. Holzer, a Georgetown University economist. “We want to give up as few of the gains that we’ve made as possible.”