June 16, 2020 10:45 AM, EDT

Powell Warns That Long Downturn Would Mean Severe Damage

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell pauses during a news conference in Washington on March 3. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell pauses during a news conference in Washington on March 3. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

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WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy faces a deep downturn with “significant uncertainty” about the timing and strength of a recovery. He warned that the longer the recession lasts, the worse the damage that will be inflicted on the job market and businesses.

Powell stressed in prepared testimony to Congress that the Fed is committed to using all its financial tools to cushion the economic damage from the coronavirus. But he said that until the public is confident the disease has been contained, “a full recovery is unlikely.”

The chairman warned that a prolonged downturn could inflict severe harm, especially to low-income workers who have been hit hardest. Powell is delivering the first of two days of semiannual congressional testimony, first on June 16 to the Senate Banking Committee and then on June 17 to the House Financial Services Committee.

“The longer the downturn lasts, the greater the potential for longer-term damage from permanent job loss and business closures,” Powell said in his Senate testimony. “Long periods of unemployment can erode workers’ skills and hurt their job prospects.”

He noted that the pandemic poses “acute risks” for small businesses.

“If a small or medium-sized business becomes insolvent because the economy recovers too slow, we lose more than just that business,” he said. “These businesses are the heart of our economy and often embody the work of generations.”

The chairman told lawmakers, “We are committed to using our full range of tools to support the economy and to help assure that the recovery from this difficult period will be as robust as possible.”

In March, the Fed cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low near zero. Last week, it left the rate at that level and signaled that it expected to keep rates at that level through 2022.

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