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John Williams, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York speaks to the Economic Club of New York in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., on March 6, 2019.Lucas Jackson/Reuters

The U.S. unemployment rate is likely to get worse before it gets better, and it is difficult to know what the economic recovery will look like, New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams said Thursday.

The most recent economic figures do not fully capture the pain American families are going through, since some people who stopped working for health reasons or to care for a family member may not be counted, Williams said in remarks prepared for a webinar organized by business groups based in upstate New York.

The unemployment rate, which surged to 14.7% in April, “is sure to get worse before it gets better,” Williams said.

As businesses begin to reopen, there will be more information on the economic toll of the virus on various industries and how long it could take the economy to rebound, he said.

“What we don’t know is what the shape or timescale of the recovery will be,” he said. “It’s going to be some time before we have a clearer view of the effects on other industries, including autos, higher education, manufacturing, and professional services.”

The Fed acted quickly to shore up the U.S. economy in March as the coronavirus spread. Policymakers cut rates to near zero and rolled out a slew of emergency lending facilities intended to keep credit flowing to businesses and households. The Fed also launched into open-ended asset purchases, including Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities, to improve market functioning.

Williams said rates will stay low until policymakers are “confident” that the economy is stable and on track to reach the Fed’s maximum employment and price stability goals.

“Amid all the change we’re experiencing, you can be assured of one thing: our unwavering commitment to limit the economic damage from the pandemic and foster conditions for a strong and sustained recovery,” he said.

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