Since the start of the pandemic, a substantial increase in quantitative easing along with major geopolitical tensions has led to some of the worst inflation in decades. With prices rising rapidly, central banks feared a 1970s inflation scenario, where sustained inflation led to a decade of economic hardship. So, central bankers across the world concluded that the only way to curb inflation was to use the blunt tool of rising rates to hammer economic demand.
So far there is disagreement over how well this strategy has worked, in the US the inflation peaked at 9.1% and is now down to 3.7% (still well above their 2% target). In the UK the situation is much worse, with inflation still at 6.8% (down from the 11.5% peak). Now, the public is feeling the squeeze from both sides, with higher inflation eating away at their wages and higher interest rates increasing the possibility of recession and job losses.
For students, this is daunting for multiple reasons. On one hand, the possibility of recession would be a major blow to the already fiercely competitive graduate job market. On the other hand, students, who have struggled in the cost-of-living crisis, could have to face continually high inflation, eroding the value of their maintenance loan and part-time wages. The other factor students are worrying about is their student loans. For most, student loan rates are directly linked to RPI (retail price index) inflation, meaning the longer inflation lingers the more will have to be paid. Currently, the rate is around 7%. At this rate student loan liability will double every 10 years.
What is next for the economy is unknown. Based on the attitude of central bankers, interest rates are to be expected to stay, ‘higher for longer,’ as US Fed Chair Jerome Powel has said. Determined to tackle inflation, the Central Banks will continue to push the cause of higher rates, even at the expense of rising unemployment or, potentially, a recession.