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Fed Rate Increases Hinge on Strength of Jobs and Economy

Federal Reserve policymakers are debating how much further they need to raise interest rates to ensure that inflation speedily returns to a normal pace, and that calculus is likely to depend heavily on the job market’s strength.

Officials will closely watch the employment report on Friday, the last reading on job growth that they will receive before their July 25-26 meeting, for a hint at how much momentum remains in the American economy.

Fed officials have been surprised by the economy’s staying power 16 months into their push to slow it down by raising interest rates, which makes borrowing money more expensive. While growth is slower, the housing market has begun to stabilize and the job market has remained abnormally strong with plentiful opportunities and solid pay growth. Fed officials worry that if wage growth remains unusually rapid, it could make it difficult to bring elevated inflation fully back to their 2 percent goal.

That resilience — and the stubbornness of quick inflation, particularly for services — is why policymakers expect to continue raising interest rates, which they have already lifted above 5 percent for the first time in about 15 years. Officials have ratcheted up rates in smaller increments this year than last year, and they skipped a rate move at their June meeting for the first time in 11 gatherings. But several policymakers have been clear that even as the pace moderates, they still expect to raise interest rates further.

“It can make sense to skip a meeting and move more gradually,” Lorie K. Logan, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said during a speech this week, while noting that it is important for officials to now follow up by continuing to lift rates.

She added that “inflation and the labor market evolving more or less as expected wouldn’t really change the outlook.”

Fed officials predicted in June that they would raise interest rates twice more this year — assuming they move in quarter-point increments — and that the labor market would soften, but only slightly. They saw the unemployment rate rising to 4.1 percent from 3.7 percent currently.

Investors widely expect Fed officials to raise interest rates at their July meeting, and the strength of the labor market could help to shape the outlook after that. While policymakers will not release new economic projections until September, Wall Street will monitor how policymakers are reacting to economic developments to gauge whether another move this year is likely.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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