Header Image Mobile Header Image



Workers to the Fed: “Recovery? What Recovery?”

Something happened there in Jackson Hole today that has never happened before: protests. – CNBC

Last week, for the first time in memory, unemployed and low-wage workers had face-to-face engagement with the nation's most powerful economic decision-makers. And the workers' voices were amplified by wall-to-wall national media coverage that highlighted their passion and message: this economy is not working for us.

The Federal Reserve's top officials are usually insulated from the concerns of working families, but when they gathered at their annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Thursday, they were met by a team of 10 activists -- brought together by the Center for Popular Democracy and our core partners around the country.

Tyrone Raino, a member of MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, in Jackson Hole, WY (photo credit: Reuters).

The Fed has enormous power over our economy. But its lack of democratic accountability, and its deep relationships with Wall Street and corporations, mean that its policies have failed to create an economy with good jobs and rising wages. Now the Fed is in the midst of a major debate about whether the economy has recovered sufficiently from the Great Recession. It's considering raising interest rates -- a move that would slow the economy down and increase the cost of debt for working families -- so we traveled to Jackson Hole to make our voices heard.

"Today was the first time participants could remember demonstrators showing up," the New York Times reported. “'Their presence has been mentioned repeatedly by Fed officials and speakers, suggesting that it has made an impression,' [said Times reporter Binyamin Applebaum]." Although one CNBC anchor said that we had come "dangerously close" to Fed Chair Janet Yellen, she told us that she understands our concerns and, through her staff, extended an invitation to meet with her in Washington, DC.

Becky Dernbach of NOC sends a message to Fed Chair Janet Yellen (photo credit: Bloomberg).

The national media gave extensive coverage to our protest. The Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported on the conversation between Stanley Fischer, the Fed's Vice Chair, and Reggie Rounds, an unemployed member of Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment who lives in Ferguson, MO and who explained to the BBC World Service that the current crisis there is inextricably linked with the lack of good jobs in the African American community.

The Washington Post previewed our action through the voice of Shemethia Butler, a McDonald's worker and member of Our DC who is struggling to survive on $9.50 an hour. The Post also described the open letter that we wrote, signed by 70 organizations from around the country, calling on the Fed to provide maximum support for the economy until we reach full employment, with rising wages and less inequality. (And, yesterday the NY Times published an editorial repeating our arguments).

We sat down for two hours with Kansas City Fed President Esther George, who was hosting the conference and who has, disturbingly, been one of the loudest voices calling for an end to the Fed's expansionary policy. George listened to the workers' stories and accepted the invitation of Reuben Eckels, a pastor in Wichita, KS and leader of Sunflower Community Action, to visit with his congregation and see what life is like in their community. “The Federal Reserve decides how many of us will remain unemployed and whether our wages will go up or stay low,” Eckels, told the Times in the paper's second article about the protest. “They need to hear voices from everyday people.”

Kansas City Fed President Esther George spent two hours listening to community members' experiences.

Julie Miller, a former bank manager representing the Committee for Better Banks and New York Communities for Change, told President George that the current high unemployment rate disempowers workers and allows commercial banks to exploit their front-line staff. 

At the conference, we also ran into Christina Romer, President Obama’s former chief economic advisor, who told us how glad she was that we were there.

The workers' stories were read in hundreds of outlets around the country because they made the wire services. Kendra Brooks, a leader of Action United in Philadelphia, told the Associated Press that the so-called "economic recovery" has been a failure for working families: "This has been what my recovery looks like, and it's a nightmare."

Tyrone Raino, of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in Minneapolis, told Vox that "I want to at least get our voices heard before they make their decisions" and published an op-ed in the Minneapolis Post explaining his experience as a young worker in this economy.

Our protest was just the beginning of a sustained campaign to convince the Federal Reserve to adopt pro-jobs policies that raise wages, expand the middle class, and reduce inequality. In the coming months and years, in collaboration with state and national partners, we'll make sure that workers' voices are a central part of the Fed's decision-making process and will fight to ensure that its policies advance the interests of working families, not corporate and financial interests.

Below are links and excerpts to full coverage of our action and photos of the brave leaders who made the historic trek out to Jackson Hole. If you agree with us, please donate to support more of this work. Together, we can build a more democratic economy.

Thanks to MORE, NOC, Sunflower Community Action, the Committee for Better Banks, Make the Road New York Action Fund, New York Communities for Change, Action United, Our DC, and the Economic Policy Institute for help making this effort such a major success.

News clips:

Washington Post: Meet the Ordinary People Who Are Organizing Around Monetary Policy
“I’m going to Wyoming to let these bankers in Jackson Hole know that we are not in recovery,” said [Shemethia] Butler, 34. “I need them to understand. I need them to see where I’m coming from.”

“We can’t leave the debate about Fed policies up to academics and elite bankers and corporate executives,” [said Ady Barkan, senior attorney for the Center for Popular Democracy].

Wall Street Journal: Activists at Jackson Hole See Recovery on Wall Street, ‘Not My Street’

"“I have no vehicle. My housing situation is stressful. I’m about to lose my apartment. I’m struggling really hard,” [Shemethia Butler] said. “Things may be fine on Wall Street, but they’re not fine on my street.”

Associated Press: Jackson Hole Demonstrators Rally Against Rate Hike

Carrying placards and green T-shirts embossed with the slogan "What recovery?" they said they'd come from New York, Missouri, Minnesota and elsewhere to draw attention to people left behind by the recovery and still unable to find work . . . .Yellen spokesman Doug Tillett said her staff would seek to arrange a meeting between the chair and the demonstrators back in Washington . . . .Tillett, the Yellen spokesman, said, "We're certainly willing to meet with them and hear what they have to say."

Reuters: Unemployed take their case to Fed officials at Jackson Hole

While small in number, the activists managed to get a great deal of face time with senior officials. On Thursday, they spoke with the host of the conference, Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Esther George, for two hours. On Friday, Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer stepped out of the conference to spend ten minutes to listen to their plight.

BBC World Service: Recovery? What Recovery? (radio)

Reggie Rounds from Ferguson Missouri says, "The community in which I reside is a disheartened community ... there is no recovery ... we have no jobs and the jobs that we do get are not sustainable. We aren't able to survive as a community ... There is no recovery. Things are getting worse. Daily."

CNBC: Mellow Protestors at Jackson Hole (video)

"There were guys wearing green shirts saying "What Recovery?" and urging the Fed not to raise interest rates ... These were the nicest bunch of people you ever want to meet, apparently Esther George the Kansas City Fed President talked with them at length ... they're a very well behaved bunch."

NY Times: Fed Chief Sees Not Enough Data to Raise Rates

 “The Federal Reserve decides how many of us will remain unemployed and whether our wages will go up or stay low,” said Reuben Eckels, the pastor of a church in Wichita, Kan. “They need to hear voices from everyday people.”

Vox: Meet the activists who want to make the Fed listen to workers for a change

This year [the Jackson Hole conference] was different. A group of community activists traveled to the conference to urge policymakers to not do what an increasing number of voices in the Fed system and in the financial sector have been urging them to do: raise interest rates."

"I want to at least get our voices heard before they make their decisions," Tyrone Raino, who recently took a job requiring a 40 mile commute from his home in Minneapolis, says.

MarketWatch: A first for Jackson Hole — protesters are here, and they don’t want rate hikes

Kendra Brooks, 42, a resident of Philadelphia who has an MBA but still found herself out of work even after her unemployment benefits ended, said the American dream has “fizzled” in this economy.

“We are not their [the Fed's] primary concern. They are more focused on the top end of the [income] scale,” she said . . . . The activists said the Jackson Hole protest was the start of a new effort to get officials to understand the economy is broken.

The Hill (Shemethia Butler Op-ed): Workers like me want the Federal Reserve to get real

Minnesota Post (Tyrone Raino Op-ed): What recovery? Workers are telling the Federal Reserve to get real

US News: Activists Push for More Everyday Voices Before Fed

 “The vast majority of people who are impacted by Fed policy never get a voice in what that policy will be, and Federal Reserve officials communicate regularly with corporate executives and bankers, but they rarely communicate with working families, so we’re going to try to change that,” [Ady] Barkan says.

Bloomberg: Yellen Cites 19-Measure Labor Market Index: Jackson Hole Journal

Shemethia Butler, who works part time at a McDonald’s Corp. restaurant in Washington, was one of those to make the trip. The 34-year-old said that while she isn’t up on monetary policy, she wants policy makers to know she fears higher interest rates for her and her community. She said she works 25 to 35 hours a week for $9.50 an hour at a job she’s had for just over a year. Before that she was unemployed for two years.

“There’s no recovery,” Butler said. “The economy is broken because there aren’t enough jobs for people like me.”

Al Jazeera: Fed chair cautious on timing of rate rises, questions health of job market

Kansas pastor and activist, Rueben Eckels, was one of those taking part in the Jackson Hole protests. He urged the Fed to “be doing much more to help vulnerable Americans achieve real economic security.” He told the Washington Post: “It’s time for the Fed to use its power on behalf of working people, instead of the wealthy elite.”

CNBC (#2): Nightly Business Report (video)

Those weren’t the only headlines out of the symposium. Something happened there in Jackson Hole today that has never happened before: protests. “The Federal Reserve has its hands on the levers of macroeconomic policy and we need the Fed to know that raising interest rates right now would send millions of people out of work and it would be a terrible way to try to combat asset bubbles,” [said Ady Barkan of the Center for Popular Democracy].

Reuters (#2): Janet Yellen says U.S. job market still struggling out of Great Recession, calls for ‘pragmatic’ policy

A handful of workers in green “What Recovery?” t-shirts are also staying at the resort, pulling policymakers aside as they can in the mountain view bar and main lodge area to press the case that many families are still struggling.

Washington Post (#2): Yellen says improving economy still faces challenges

Kansas City Fed President Esther L. George — one of the most vocal proponents of raising interest rates soon — met with the protesters in Jackson Hole on Thursday for about two hours to hear their stories. Ady Barkan, senior attorney at the Center for Popular Democracy, said the groups plan to request meetings with other Fed officials as well.

NY Times (#2): Your Evening Briefing

 [T]oday was the first time participants could remember demonstrators showing up.“Their presence has been mentioned repeatedly by Fed officials and speakers, suggesting that it has made an impression,” [said New York Times reporter Binyamin Applebaum]. Notably, the Fed chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, stopped by to express sympathy. In a speech today, she said the central bank needed more evidence of growing employment before deciding when to raise interest rates.

MarketWatch (#2): Yellen says debate over when to hike now center stage (photo only)

Associated Press (photo only): Yellen says shifts in job market since Great Recession make Fed rate decisions more difficult

Liberty Times Net (Taiwan)