WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, saying the U.S. economy has come a long way since the Great Recession, gave further signals Wednesday that the central bank was likely to raise interest rates this month.

In a highly anticipated speech in Washington, Yellen said the Fed had made good progress in meeting its two objectives, maximizing employment and controlling inflation. Her remarks reinforced widespread expectations that policymakers would make their first rate hike in nearly a decade at the end of their two-day meeting Dec. 15-16.

She cautioned, however, that there were still more economic data to be released before the Fed’s next meeting, most importantly the November jobs report this Friday. Analysts are expecting another month of solid job gains, near this year’s average of 200,000, and the jobless rate is forecast to remain at 5 percent, which many consider to be close to full employment.

“The U.S. economy has recovered substantially since the Great Recession,” Yellen said at a gathering of the Economic Club of Washington.

The Fed has held its benchmark interest rate near zero since late 2008, and a rise in that short-term financing cost for banks will mean the end of an era and the start of what is expected to be gradual increases that will raise borrowing rates for households and businesses.

Despite intensified debate within the Fed about the timing of a rate increase, officials held off at their last meeting in late October in good part because of concerns about the slowing global economy, which have eased since then. In her remarks Wednesday, Yellen said that China’s economic slowdown, a particular focus of concern, would likely “continue to be modest and gradual.”

John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, who is a voting member of the policymaking committee this year, described their decision in October as a “close call.” Since then, he and several other top Fed officials have suggested that they are satisfied with the economic outlook and ready to vote for a rate hike in December.

Besides the global economic slowdown, Fed officials have been cautious about raising rates – too cautious, in the eyes of some policymakers – because they believe the labor market is not as strong as the jobless rate might suggest. Yellen noted Wednesday that there are still nearly 2 million people who want to work and are available but haven’t been searching for a job, some of whom could be drawn back into the labor force in a stronger job market. Moreover, she said, there are many people now working part-time who want full-time jobs.

Inflation, meanwhile, has continued to run well short of the Fed’s target rate of 2 percent, dragged down by low oil prices and the strong dollar that has made imported goods cheaper.

Yellen reiterated Wednesday, however, that she expected inflation to move up to the Fed’s target in the months to come.