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Fed’s Janet Yellen hints rates will stay low

Federal Reserve vice chairwoman Janet Yellen with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka (left) on Monday.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Federal Reserve vice chairwoman Janet Yellen with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka (left) on Monday.

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve vice chairwoman Janet Yellen says the central bank may keep its key short-term interest rate at a record low even after unemployment falls close to a more normal level.

The Fed has said it would hold its benchmark rate near zero as long as unemployment is above 6.5 percent and long-run inflation forecasts are below 2.5 percent. The current jobless rate is 7.9 percent.

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In a speech Monday to the AFL-CIO, Yellen said those are ‘‘thresholds for possible action, not triggers that will necessarily prompt an immediate increase.’’

Her comments echoed remarks chairman Ben Bernanke made in December after the Fed announced it would change its forward guidance for short-term rate increases. At a news conference after the Fed’s December meeting, Bernanke said the Fed might decide to keep stimulating the economy even after unemployment falls below 6.5 percent.

Yellen has been a Bernanke ally and has consistently voted to support his initiatives to boost the economy. Those include the latest change in guidance for short-term rates, as well as bond purchases that have helped push long-term rates lower. Both are designed to encourage more borrowing and spending, which boosts economic growth.

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