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Fed Officials Ponder Jobs, Inflation and Interest Rates

File - A worker prepares a chassis to receive an engine at Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri, March 2015.

Top officials of the U.S. central bank are gathered in Washington, D.C., for two days of meetings to consider how soon and how much to raise the key interest rate.

Most economists predict the U.S. Federal Reserve will keep interest rates at the record-low levels where they have been since 2008 when officials tried to ease the financial crisis by stimulating the economy with inexpensive loans. Many experts now say the Fed is likely to make the first rate hike at a meeting scheduled in September, and push rates upward gradually after that.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to brief journalists on interest rate decisions, as well as the state of the world's largest economy on Wednesday afternoon. The Fed's job is to steer the economy toward stable prices and full employment.

While the U.S. jobless rate has fallen sharply since the recession, Yellen has expressed concerns about the number of people who remain unemployed for long periods of time.

Inflation also is a concern, as prices have been rising at less than the two-percent annual rate that Fed experts say is healthy for the economy.

Fed officials have lots of data to consider, including Monday's report that shows industrial production slowing, and a separate study on the housing market that was mostly upbeat.