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Taming inflation could drive unemployment up to 6%, Wall Street bank says

Will the U.S. see a recession next year?
Some economists predict the U.S. will enter a recession next year 05:23

Taming inflation could lead to much higher U.S. unemployment than what the Federal Reserve is expecting, Deutsche Bank analysts said on Monday. 

The Fed's battle against inflation is already proving painful for many Americans, who are grappling with a jump in borrowing costs due to the Federal Reserve's ongoing rate hikes as well as the fiercest inflation in 40 years. But getting prices under control will require "a lot higher unemployment rate" than the Fed's forecast of 4.4% next year, Deutsche Bank said in a note to clients.  

In September, the jobless rate stood at 3.5% — the lowest since February 2020, or just before the pandemic slammed the economy and led to widespread job losses.

Following a series of interest rate hikes this year by Fed officials, the unemployment rate could rise as high as 6% next year, according to the Deutsche Bank forecast. Based on the country's existing workforce of 164 million people, that implies a loss of roughly 4 million jobs between now and the end of 2023, by which the economists expect the U.S. will enter a recession. 

Separately on Monday, a survey of business economists found that more than half think the country is likely to enter a recession in the next 12 months; 11% believe a downturn has already started, according to the National Association for Business Economists.

Prior to the pandemic, the last time the economy experienced a jobless rate of 6% was in 2014, when the U.S. was still recovering from the Great Recession. In other words, the pain needed to bring down inflation may be far from the "soft landing" that the Fed is aiming for. 

"Our updated analysis continues to point to the need for a sharper rise in unemployment than embedded in the Fed's latest projections for September," Deutsche Bank noted. 

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Under the Fed's projection, about 1.2 million people would lose their jobs as the unemployment rate drifts up to 4.4%.

But actually pushing down inflation to the Fed's goal of about 4% by the end of 2024 would require a bigger spike in unemployment than the central bank is anticipating, the Deutsche Bank economists believe. 

A rise in joblessness can help curb inflation because the newly unemployed and their families typically cut back on spending. With more slack in the labor market, employers don't need to boost wages to compete for talent, which means that wage growth flattens out. Without the need to boost pay, companies can stop raising prices. According to economic theory, these trends should work together to slow inflation. 

Of course, while this may work in theory, it would result in very real economic pain for thousands or even millions of U.S. households. 

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