Despite the numerous signs that the economy is closer to a boom than to a bust, the Federal Reserve is right where it was during the darkest days of the financial crisis in December 2008: holding interest rates at zero.

Businesses have been on a job-creating hot streak, adding 3.2 million jobs over 67 straight weeks. At 5.1 percent in September, the unemployment rate is below the White House's forecast for next year. Auto sales are booming. Foreclosures have fallen, and home prices are approaching the heights they reached before the housing bubble burst.

Yet the Fed's interest rate target hasn't moved from where it was when unemployment reached 10 percent.

If all goes to plan, that will change later this year, when the central bank is likely to feel comfortable enough in the recovery to begin raising its interest rate target.

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In that scenario laid out by Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, the Fed gradually will begin tightening monetary policy as the U.S. reaches full employment. Then, as underemployed people are put back to work and spend more, inflation will rise to the Fed's 2 percent target, and the central bank will have fulfilled its two congressional mandates.

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