DALLAS — Weighing his words, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke declared Wednesday that the crisis that had the nation's financial system teetering on the brink of collapse is "largely behind us."
"But we are far from being out of the woods," the central banker cautioned 1,448 business people at a Dallas Regional Chamber luncheon while 10 demonstrators ideologically opposed to the Federal Reserve protested peacefully across the street. Bernanke said that there is still no evidence of a sustained recovery in the housing market, that delinquencies of both subprime and prime mortgages are rising, and that the commercial real estate sector remains troubled — a concern for local communities and for the banks holding the notes.
"The economy has stabilized and is growing again, although we can hardly be satisfied when 1 out of every 10 U.S. workers is unemployed and family finances remain under great stress," Bernanke said in the first public speech by a serving Fed chairman since Alan Greenspan in 2003.
Although layoffs have eased in recent months, hiring remains sluggish, he said. More than 40 percent of the jobless have been without work six months or longer, nearly twice the percentage a year ago.
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In his most hopeful note, Bernanke predicted that the unemployment rate will slowly drop over the coming year because of economic growth helped by the Fed's stimulative monetary policy and low interest rates.
"If economic conditions improve, as I expect, we should see increased optimism among consumers and greater willingness on the part of banks to lend, which in turn should aid the recovery."
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