March 5, 2019 / 4:36 PM / 16 days ago

Tariffs, rural unemployment figure in to Fed outlook: Barkin

(Reuters) - Pressures on U.S. consumer prices are mixed and lower rural employment rates matter, a top Federal Reserve official said on Tuesday in comments that reinforce policymakers’ choice to stop lifting interest rates.

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Thomas Barkin said in a question-and-answer session at an agricultural trade conference in Richmond, Virginia, that, while U.S. President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs imposed last year had a wide impact, similar taxes levied on other imported goods have had a “much more mixed” effect on consumer prices.

“The pass-through of those (tariffs) has been much more mixed,” he said, adding that businesses he talks to are saying they know they have to eat some of their rising costs and that inflation at the consumer level “certainly hasn’t spiked.”

The Fed has put on hold, for the timing being, rate hikes that could prevent inflation, with policymakers saying that improvements in the labor market are not coming with the expense of significantly diminished spending power.

Meanwhile, U.S. employment rates for people aged 16 to 64 are 10 percentage points lower in smaller towns than urban areas, he said. Barkin’s emphasis on areas of possible under-employment matters because some policymakers and economists argue that rates should be lower for longer to help more people get jobs.

“The Fed’s mandate includes maximum employment, so we care about gaps in labor market outcomes,” Barkin said in his speech. The central banker said that people quitting their jobs has not been as big a driver of wage increases at it used to be, offsetting some pressures in a hot labor market.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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