WASHINGTON - How long will it take to get to an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent?
That's the target the Federal Reserve wants to reach before it begins raising interest rates.
The best guess of top Fed officials is two and a half years from now or mid-2015, according to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke at his news conference last week.
It's a gloomy forecast.
Now come two economists who show that, under plausible assumptions, it could take a lot longer. How about 2018?
Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, did some rough calculations estimating the job growth needed to reduce the unemployment rate, 7.7 percent in November, to 6.5 percent.
Their conclusion: If job creation's modest pace, about 220,000 a month during the past year, continues, the Fed's mid-2015 prediction will be fulfilled.
But of course, it may not continue.
Greenstone and Looney also estimated what would happen under different rates of job growth.