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WASHINGTON -- With the economy still struggling to recover from the pandemic recession, Federal Reserve policymakers signaled Wednesday that their benchmark short-term interest rate will likely remain at zero at least through 2023 and probably even longer.

Fed chair Jerome Powell said at a press conference that while the economy has rebounded more quickly than expected, the job market is still hurting and the outlook is uncertain. The unemployment rate has fallen steadily since the spring but is still 8.4%.

"Although we welcome this progress we will not lose sight of the millions of Americans that remain out of work," Powell said.

The Fed left its interest rate, which influences borrowing costs for homebuyers, credit card users, and businesses, unchanged at nearly zero, where it has been pegged since the virus pandemic intensified in March. Fed policymakers hope an extended period of low interest rates will encourage more borrowing and spending, though their policy also carries the risk of inflating a bubble in stocks or other financial assets.

Fed officials said, in a set of quarterly economic projections, that they expect to keep rates at zero through 2023. And in a statement released after its two-day meeting,

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