What Higher Interest Rates Could Mean for Jobs

on May18
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“I think that lending rates might be less important right now,” said Kenneth D. Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. “An increase in either credit market or bank rates isn’t sufficient to choke off demand for many types of projects.”

The tech sector, which feeds on venture capital that is more abundant in low-interest-rate environments, has drooped in recent months. Under pressure to burn less cash, some companies are looking to offshore jobs that before the pandemic they thought needed to be done on site, or at least in the country.

“We’ve seen several of our clients in the high-growth technology space quickly shift their focus to reducing cost,” said Bryce Maddock, the chief executive of the outsourcing company TaskUs, discussing U.S. layoffs on an earnings call last week. “Across all verticals, the operating environment has led to an acceleration in our clients’ demand for growth in offshore work and a decrease in demand for onshore work.”

In the broader economy, however, any near-term layoffs might occur on account of forces outside the Fed’s control: namely, the exhaustion of federal pandemic-relief spending, and a natural waning in demand for goods after a two-year national shopping spree. That could hit manufacturing and retail, as consumers contemplate their overfilled closets. Spending on long-lasting items has fallen for a couple months in a row, even before adjusting for inflation.

If spending on durable goods declines sharply, “I could easily see that creating a recession, because suppliers would be stuck with a massive amount of inventory that they wish they didn’t have, and people employed that they wish they didn’t,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic policy arm of the Brookings Institution. “Even there, it’s going to be hard to know how much was that the Fed raised interest rates, and how much was the extraordinary surge in demand for goods unwinding.”

In general, if the Fed’s path of tightening does prompt firms to downsize, that’s likely to be bad news for Black, Hispanic and female workers with less education. Research shows that while a hot labor market tends to bring in people who have less experience or barriers to employment, those workers are also the first to be let go as conditions worsen — across all industries, not just in sectors that might be hit harder by a recession.

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