The United States “may well be in recession” but progress in controlling the spread of the coronavirus will determine when the economy can fully reopen, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Thursday in a rare network television interview on NBC’s Today Show.
Powell spoke just about an hour before federal data showed a record-breaking spike of unemployment claims to 3.28 million [nL1N2BI1VH], evidence that “social distancing” to fight the pandemic has taken hold, and may have ended the country’s more than decade-long economic expansion.
His choice of venue - a network morning show when many Americans are homebound and paying close attention - was itself part of a message that seemed meant to prepare people for the dismal economic data to come, counsel patience in any rush back to work, and reassure that the Fed would act “aggressively” to keep firms and families afloat.
“We are not experts in pandemic... We would tend to listen to the experts. Dr. Fauci said something like the virus is going to set the timetable, and that sounds right to me,” Powell said, in reference to Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is on the White House’s coronavirus task force.
“The first order of business will be to get the spread of the virus under control and then resume economic activity.”
The U.S. central bank chief’s remarks are a contrast to the urging by some of President Donald Trump’s advisers for a faster reopening. The president himself has said he wants the economy to be “roaring” by Easter, in a little over two weeks.
The Fed officials who have spoken to the issue, now including Powell, have taken a more somber approach, focusing on the need to first control the virus, then restore confidence among workers and consumers that it is safe to go back to business.