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Patrick Harker said while the economy is revitalizing quicker than expected, employment levels will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023. Credit: Stuart A Watson

Although the economy is rebounding from the impact of COVID-19, employment levels will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023, Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President and former Wharton Dean Patrick Harker predicted in a speech Tuesday.

Harker spoke at the online conference “Pandemic: Accelerating AI and Machine Learning?” at the Global Interdependence Center. He told listeners the economy is revitalizing quicker than expected as half of the 22 million Americans who lost their jobs earlier this year have returned to work, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported

The unemployment rate has dropped from 10.2% to 7.9%, which Harker said is “still disastrously high,” the Inquirer reported. The pre-shutdown unemployment rate in January was 3.6%.

In his speech, Harker said his prediction of economic recovery by 2023 depends on a sustained decline in the rate of new infections, the availability of a vaccine by the end of 2021, and an additional trillion-dollar stimulus package.

Federal stimulus plans are currently unclear as President Donald Trump posted a series of contradictory tweets this week, first declaring that he would terminate stimulus negotiations until after the election — but then endorsing aid for the airline industry and stimulus payments for all Americans. 

Harker said the country’s inability to control the spread of the virus has also had a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic Americans, who have experienced higher rates of sickness, death, and unemployment from the pandemic.

Harker, a Penn alumnus, served as Dean of the Wharton School from 1999 to 2007. At the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, he holds a seat on the Federal Open Market Committee, which formulates national monetary policy.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank is one of the 12 regional Reserve Banks in the Federal Reserve System. Serving Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, and Delaware, it helps formulate and implement monetary policy, supervise banks, and provide financial services to the federal government.

Harker graduated from Penn with a master's and bachelor's in civil engineering in 1981, and a doctorate in civil engineering and a master's in economics in 1983. His wife, Emily Saaty Harker, graduated from Wharton in 1981.

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