Wed, Jun 18, 2014 - Page 15 News List

IMF cuts US forecast, urges infrastructure investment

AFP, WASHINGTON

The IMF on Monday slashed its forecast for the US and urged policymakers to keep interest rates low and raise the minimum wage to strengthen growth in the world’s largest economy.

The global crisis lender said in its annual report card on the US economy that the country will likely grow only 2 percent this year, compared with the previous 2.8 percent estimate, blaming mainly the unexpected contraction in the first quarter.

It said growth is likely to rebound to 3 percent next year, but to ensure that, the government should take measures like increasing the minimum wage and embarking on a strong infrastructure-building program.

Moreover, the US Federal Reserve should not expect the economy to get back to full employment before the end of 2017, and that it could afford to hold its key interest rate at the zero level past the middle of next year, when the Fed has signaled it expects to raise the rate, the IMF said.

“The scars of recession are still visible,” IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said.

She cited long-term unemployment, low labor-force participation, and the fact that about 50 million Americans still live in poverty.

“There is no single measure that is going to deal with all those issues,” she said. “The US should invest in its future. The priority is to invest in people and to invest in infrastructure.”

The IMF report said that the US labor market remains significantly weaker than is implied by the headline 6.3 percent unemployment rate.

It pointed to stagnant wages and the low workforce participation rate, now 62.8 percent compared to more than 66 percent before the 2008 economic crisis.

The IMF said the US government could afford to take short-term measures to strengthen growth and jobs, despite the ongoing large fiscal deficit and huge government debt burden.

However, it said that warring political parties need to come up with a medium-term plan for addressing those problems, one that includes revising the tax structure to raise revenues, cutting the growth of healthcare costs, and fundamentally reforming the government’s social security pension program.

“Given the substantial economic slack in the economy, there is a strong case to provide continued policy support,” the IMF said.

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