- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

CHELSEA, Mass. (AP) - Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who has been using her first year in the role to draw attention to employment issues, visited a local career center on Thursday to hear from residents about the challenges of finding jobs in today’s labor market.

The central bank’s first female head is in Massachusetts to give the keynote address at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s conference on the “Inequality of Economic Opportunity” on Friday. That two-day conference will focus on the “extent of inequality of economic opportunity in the United States and its manifestations,” according to its website.

Yellen spent about an hour Thursday afternoon meeting with program officials and participants at CONNECT, a local office providing employment services in this industrial, majority Latino city north of Boston.

She mostly listened to participants’ personal stories and heard from organization and city leaders about how CONNECT is trying to address the city’s housing, education and economic challenges. At one point, Yellen, who declined to take questions from the press, asked job seekers in a roundtable discussion to talk about their experience looking for work.

Bin Qamruzzaman, a former Marine with a degree in mechanical engineering, said he spent months applying to jobs with no luck before finding CONNECT. “No one would reply back,” he told Yellen. “It was weird.”

Qamruzzaman said the organization helped him focus his job search better and put him in touch directly with company officials. He ultimately landed a job in government contracting.

Yellen has made employment a priority since succeeding Ben Bernanke and becoming the Fed’s first woman chair in February.

Her Massachusetts visit comes as the U.S. labor market has made steady progress in recent months, even amid growing concerns about global economic growth.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday that the number of people seeking unemployment aid dropped to the lowest level in 14 years last week, suggesting companies are cutting fewer workers and hiring could continue to improve.

In past remarks, Yellen has warned that the national labor market has not yet fully healed from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, despite improvements in the national unemployment rate. She has pointed to weak wage growth, a large number of long-term unemployed people and many workers who are part-time but who would rather have full-time jobs.


Associated Press Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger in Washington contributed to this report.

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