Fed Keeps Interest Rates Near Zero, But Increase May Come Later This Year

Debate continues on whether policy will cause economic distortions  

Janet Yellen / AP

The Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates near zero and is waiting for further improvement in the labor market and inflation measures before allowing any increases, according to the latest Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) statement.

The Committee says it will evaluate the progress of the economy, focusing on its twin goals of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation, in determining how long to maintain the current low target range for the federal funds rate.

The Committee says it will raise rates when it is "reasonably confident" that these two criteria have been met.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen signaled that the Fed may raise rates later this year when she discussed the Fed’s semiannual report to Congress on July 15.

"If the economy evolves as we expect, economic conditions likely would make it appropriate at some point this year to raise the federal funds rate target, thereby beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy," said Yellen in her testimony. "Indeed, most participants in June projected that an increase in the federal funds target range would likely become appropriate before year-end."

The Fed has held the federal funds rate near zero since December 2008.

Proponents of a low interest rate claim it stimulates the economy by encouraging consumers to spend money rather than save. Others claim that keeping rates low for too long can lead to economic distortions like the housing bubble that helped cause the most recent recession.

Tim Kane, an economist at the Hoover Institution, is one of these critics.

"The Fed funds rate has not been raised in nine years, and interest rates this low create an illusion that the escalating national debt is (and will remain) easy to bear," states Kane. "With interest rates kept too low for too long, the Federal Reserve can turn a boom into a bubble."

The next FOMC meeting is scheduled to take place on Sept. 16-17, and many have forecasted that this is when they expect the Fed to increase rates.