Economic recovery is weakest since World War II
By PAUL WISEMAN
The Associated Press | August 16,2012
Greg Mann, an unemployed research analyst and real estate appraiser, sorts coupons at his home in Braselton, Ga., this week. He is one of millions affected by the slow economic recovery.
WASHINGTON — The recession that ended three years ago this summer has been followed by the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
Since World War II, an even 10 U.S. recessions have been followed by a recovery that lasted at least three years. An Associated Press analysis shows that by just about any measure, the one that began in June 2009 is the weakest.
The ugliness goes well beyond unemployment, which at 8.3 percent is the highest this long after a recession ended.
Economic growth has never been weaker in a postwar recovery. Consumer spending has never been so slack. Only once has job growth been slower.
More than in any other post-World War II recovery, people who have jobs are hurting, too: Their paychecks have fallen behind inflation.
Many economists say the agonizing recovery from the Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, is the predictable consequence of a housing bust and a grave financial crisis.
Credit, the fuel that powers economies, evaporated after Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008. And a 30 percent drop in housing prices erased trillions in home equity and brought construction to a near-standstill.
So any recovery was destined to be a slog.
“A housing collapse is very different from a stock market bubble and crash,” says Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It affects so many people. It only corrects very slowly.”
The U.S. economy has other problems, too. Europe’s troubles have undermined consumer and business confidence on both sides of the Atlantic. And the deeply divided U.S. political system has delivered growth-chilling uncertainty.
The AP compared nine economic recoveries since the end of World War II that lasted at least three years. A 10th recovery that ran from 1945 to 1948 was not included because the statistics from that period aren’t comprehensive, although the available data show that hiring was robust. There were two short-lived recoveries — 24 months and 12 months — after the recessions of 1957-58 and 1980.
Here is a closer look at how the comeback from the Great Recession stacks up with the others:
America’s gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic output — grew 6.8 percent from the April-June quarter of 2009 through the same quarter this year, the slowest in the first three years of a postwar recovery. GDP grew an average of 15.5 percent in the first three years of the eight other comebacks analyzed.
The engines that usually drive recoveries aren’t firing this time.
Investment in housing, which grew an average of nearly 34 percent this far into previous postwar recoveries, is up just 8 percent since the April-June quarter of 2009.
That’s because the overbuilding of the mid-2000s left a glut of houses. Prices fell and remain depressed. The housing market has yet to return to anything close to full health even as mortgage rates have plunged to record lows.
Consumer spending has grown just 6.5 percent since the recession ended, feeblest in a postwar recovery. In the first three years of previous recoveries, spending rose an average of nearly 14 percent.
It’s no mystery why consumers are being frugal. Many have lost access to credit, which fueled their spending in the 2000s. Home equity has evaporated and credit cards have been canceled. Falling home prices have slashed home equity 49 percent, from $13.2 trillion in 2005 to $6.7 trillion early this year.
The jobs hole
The economy shed a staggering 8.8 million jobs during and shortly after the recession. Since employment hit bottom, the economy has created just over 4 million jobs.
So the new hiring has replaced 46 percent of the lost jobs, by far the worst performance since World War II. In the previous eight recoveries, the economy had regained more than 350 percent of the jobs lost, on average.
During the 1981-82 recession, the U.S. lost 2.8 million jobs. In the three years and one month after that recession ended, the economy added 9.8 million — replacing the 2.8 million and adding 7 million more.
Never before have so many Americans been unemployed for so long three years into a recovery. Nearly 5.2 million have been out of work for six months or more. The long-term unemployed account for 41 percent of the jobless; the highest mark in the other recoveries was 22 percent.
Usually, workers’ pay rises as the economy picks up momentum after a recession. Not this time. Employers don’t have to be generous in a weak job market because most workers don’t have anywhere to go.
As a result, pay raises haven’t kept up with even modest levels of inflation. Earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers — a category that covers about 80 percent of the private, nonfarm workforce — have risen just over 6.2 percent since June 2009. Consumer prices have risen nearly 7.2 percent.
Adjusted for inflation, wages have fallen 0.8 percent. In the previous five recoveries —the records go back only to 1964 — real wages had gone up an average 1.5 percent at this point.
Falling wages haven’t hurt everyone. Lower labor costs helped push corporate profits to a record 10.6 percent of U.S. GDP in the first three months of 2012. And those surging profits helped lift the Dow Jones industrials 54 percent from the end of June 2009 to the end of last month. Only after the recessions of 1948-49 and 1953-54 did stocks rise more.