Federal Reserve to launch community advisory council

The Federal Reserve building is seen in Washington June 19, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve said Friday it will establish a community advisory council of 15 citizens to meet regularly with central bank officials for a broad conversation on the state of the economy.

The move comes as the Fed is pressured by labor and low-income groups arguing for continued low interest rates. Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other Fed officials have met with these groups from late last year to hear their concerns, a departure from the practice of previous central bank leaders.

In a statement, the Fed said the panel will have “a particular focus on the concerns of low- and moderate-income populations.”

A process for selecting members will be announced later, and the Fed said it hopes the first of the group’s semiannual meetings will be held late this year.

Until 2011, the Fed had a consumer advisory council that discussed consumer regulatory issues, but that was ended after the Dodd-Frank reforms placed responsibility for consumer financial protection under a new agency.

The new panel will have a broader mandate, “to offer diverse perspectives on the economic circumstances and financial services needs of consumers and communities.”

The Fed is also under pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to be more transparent and to better address the struggles of American workers despite a low unemployment rate and years of economic stimulus by the central bank.

A provision to permanently establish a seat at the Fed board for a person with community banking experience awaits the signature of President Barack Obama, in yet another sign of growing political pressure to re-shape the Fed after its extraordinary role following the 2007-09 financial crisis.

Last October, Yellen toured a struggling neighborhood in Boston and expressed concern about rising economic inequality in the United States. She asked whether such a phenomenon was compatible with American values, entering a politically charged debate that few central bank leaders have engaged in.

Editing by Bernadette Baum