Nov 14, 5:01 PM EST

Yellen meets with activists seeking Fed reforms


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A coalition of community groups and labor unions are "fed up" with the Federal Reserve.

More than two dozen activists demonstrated outside the Fed and then met with Chair Janet Yellen on Friday as part of a new campaign seeking policy reforms and a commitment to keep interest rates low until good jobs are plentiful for all workers. Although the labor market has steadily strengthened this year, wages have remained stagnant.

During the hour-long discussion with Yellen and three other Fed board members, coalition representatives discussed problems their communities were facing with high unemployment and weak wage growth.

Ady Barkan, one of the organizers of "Fed Up: The National Campaign for a Strong Economy," said Yellen and the other Fed officials listened but made no commitments about future Fed policy.

"It was a very good conversation," said Barkan, an attorney with the Center for Popular Democracy in Brooklyn. "They listened very intently, and they asked meaningful follow-up questions."

Fed officials confirmed that the meeting took place but declined to comment on the issues raised at the meeting.

The Fed's outreach to community activists was the latest move by Yellen to focus attention on lingering problems from the Great Recession. Wearing green tee-shirts with the phrase "What Recovery?" the group had protested outside of the Fed's headquarters on Constitution Avenue under the watchful eye of nine Fed security officers.

Members of the group, some of whom had demonstrated at a central bank gathering in August in Jackson Hole, Wyoming said it was important that Fed officials not be swayed by arguments that it needs to move quickly to raise interest rates to make sure inflation does not become a threat.

"The banks are the ones that crashed the economy ... but they're the ones who got the bonuses and the bailouts while workers and homeowners like me were left to drown," said Jean Andre, 48, of New York, who said he was having a tough time finding full-time work.

In addition to Yellen, the Fed officials who took part in the meeting were Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer and Fed board members Jerome Powell and Lael Brainard.

Members of the coalition said about half of the meeting was taken up by their members telling stories about the difficulty in finding jobs, particularly in disadvantaged groups and communities dealing with unemployment much higher than the 5.8 percent national average.

The Fed officials also were presented a petition signed by 5,000 people around the country urging the central bank to keep interest rates low until the country reaches full employment.

The group also pushed for a more open process in the selection of presidents of the Fed's 12 regional banks. They say the current process is too secretive and dominated by officials from banks and other businesses with little input from the public. The regional presidents, along with Fed board members in Washington, participate in the deliberations to set interest rates.

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