November 28, 2017

Fed Chair Nominee Tells Senator Warren Congress Needs to Address Opioid Crisis to Strengthen Labor Market

Opioid Epidemic, Lack of Paid Family Leave Preventing Labor Market from Reaching Full Potential

Video available here (YouTube)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Jerome Powell, President Trump's nominee to Chair the Federal Reserve, during today's Senate Banking Committee hearing about how the opioid epidemic is hurting the American labor market.

In discussing possible explanations for why the current low unemployment rate has not been accompanied by wage increases, Senator Warren suggested that the opioid crisis, which has sidelined workers, may be partially to blame. The senator cited recent research, which found that about 44 percent of prime-age working men between the ages of 25 and 54 who are out of work said they had taken pain medication within the past 24 hours, and about two-thirds of those were currently taking prescription pain medications. Senator Warren asked Mr. Powell how that data would affect his efforts to achieve full employment as Chair of the Federal Reserve.

"Well, let me just agree with everything you said about prime-age participation, that's the other place I was going, is a full percentage point lower than it was before the crisis...that also suggests some slack," said Mr. Powell. "Ultimately though, the tools for dealing with the opioid crisis and with the long-term sixty-year decline in participation by prime-age males, those are tools that Congress really has to wield." Senator Warren then asked, "It's your opinion that in order to ensure that the United States labor market is reaching its full potential Congress needs to deal with the opioid crisis. Is that fair?" Mr. Powell answered, "Yes."

Senator Warren went on to question Mr. Powell about another factor preventing prime-age workers from entering the labor market - the lack of paid family leave. The senator noted that, according to recent research, more than half of women aren't working because of their caregiving responsibilities for children and seniors. Senator Warren asked what the Federal Reserve could do to bring more women with caregiving responsibilities back into the labor market. "Again, we don't really have those tools," said Mr. Powell.

"I appreciate your making the point that the opioid epidemic and the lack of paid family leave are holding back workers and that Congress has to do something on both fronts,"
said Senator Warren. "If you are confirmed as Chair of the Federal Reserve, I hope you'll promise to come before Congress to advocate for policies to make our labor market and our economy stronger for everyone."