Recession's over. Got that? Whew, glad we could check that one off our list. For a minute there we were worried that a nearly 10 percent national unemployment rate meant something, and that something wasn't good. Fortunately, we have the National Bureau of Economic Research to tell us it's all a mirage with its declaration that the Great Recession actually ended 15 months ago, in June 2009.
Recession's over. Got that?
Whew, glad we could check that one off our list. For a minute there we were worried that a nearly 10 percent national unemployment rate meant something, and that something wasn't good. Fortunately, we have the National Bureau of Economic Research to tell us it's all a mirage with its declaration that the Great Recession actually ended 15 months ago, in June 2009.
This downturn lasted a mere 18 months - gee, it seemed like forever - not much longer than the recessions that began in 1973 and 1981, the two previous post-World War II worsts. What's different this time is the anemic pace of the recovery.
Indeed, even economists with the Bureau acknowledge that the recession is only technically behind us, that their pronouncement only means things aren't getting any worse - GDP has grown for five consecutive quarters - not that they're getting significantly better.
Nearly 15 million unemployed Americans and who knows how many underemployed could have told them that, of course. Not only are they out of jobs, most of them have gone without work for a far longer period than usual. If you're over 50, wanting to work but still not getting a paycheck - about 2.2 million people, a record - you may be starting to fear you'll never walk into an office again, even if you're highly educated. It's not as simple as going back to essentially the same job at another company, as in some industries occupations are vanishing, requiring significant retraining all so you can compete with the kids coming out of college. You have little sense of security, as twice in the last decade you've seen your stock portfolio go into freefall.
Meanwhile, the economy is only operating at about 75 percent capacity. Housing starts remain depressed, despite historically low interest rates (though loans are harder to get). If you are employed, your wages may be frozen, your pension gone.
Of course, it almost always takes longer to climb out than to fall in - especially if the recession's origins were in the financial sector, as was the case here. And hey, America is a great nation. We always bounce back, right?
More disturbing in many ways than the above realities is our sense that many Americans no longer feel that way. It has been a long while since we have felt so much self-doubt, since so many have viewed the nation's challenges as insurmountable, since the country's psyche has seemed so scarred. Some have begun to talk of just getting used to a lower standard of living, of putting up with potentially double-digit unemployment, of watching the likes of China pass us by. They've given up.
That attitude is aided and abetted by the fact that those we normally turn to for answers aren't providing any. The Fed confesses to being worried but is deferring action. Democrats in power seem like deer in the headlights, awaiting the collision they see coming in November. Rising Republicans may have a clue but if so they're largely keeping it to themselves, apparently figuring silence will equal success six weeks from now.
In short, the nation's political institutions are gripped by indecision, the greed of personal ambition and thus gridlock where the economy is concerned. Is it any wonder so many Americans have begun to act desperately, we dare say irrationally? In Delaware Republicans just nominated someone for the U.S. Senate who once dabbled in witchcraft, among other interesting personal tidbits. Seriously? Seriously.
Meanwhile, seemingly everybody is angry, divided into camps, egged on by the opportunists. One camp insists that government intervention by means of the stimulus and other measures is the only thing that kept us out of a Great Depression and therefore we need more of it to prevent a double-dip recession, deficits be damned for now. Their hero is FDR. The other is adamant that Uncle Sam has done more harm than good and that those who helped get us into this mess in the first place are the fix here, if only they could be left alone to begin the rescue. Their hero is Ronald Reagan. Both sides have their own entitlement mentality.
Utterly absent, it seems, are the moderate voices of reason who aren't screaming at each other, are content to borrow from the best of both worlds and willing to work with others toward a constructive end, while tempering expectations of a quick fix in the meantime. Those that bravely do exist are being punished at the polls. As such there's little motivation to be that person, to be that statesman, and so we don't have many - heck, maybe any.
In a lot of ways, Americans have become their own worst enemy. Heaven help us, even if the recession is over.
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.