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The New Economy

Leading indicators: US recession nearly over

By / August 20, 2009

Shoppers pass back-to-school sales at a mall in Nashua, N.H., in early August. A new report says that the economy stopped contracting in July. But the average consumer isn't likely to feel recession-free for months.

Elise Amendola / AP

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America's worst recession since the 1930s is just about over.

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(But don't tell America's workers.)

For the first time since October 2008, a measure of the current economy known as the coincident economic index did not decline, The Conference Board reported Thursday.

(Why aren't I hearing a "woo-hoo" from America's shopping aisles?)

What that means is that the same measures used by the official group of economists to date the beginning and end of recessions are now flat. "As it stands now, it appears that the economy stopped contracting in July, i.e the recession ended," writes Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, in an analysis.

Or maybe the preliminary figure will get revised next month, meaning the downturn's end doesn't happen till September or October.

The question is: Does the date matter to ordinary workers and consumers? Not really. Workers are still losing their jobs. Consumers are still dealing with constrained income.

"For all of this talk about 'Are we there yet, Daddy?' to the average consumer out there ... it still feels like [a recession]," says Ken Goldstein, economist at The Conference Board, in an interview. "Even if the recession does end in September or October, it's going to feel like that through the holidays."

The good news, he adds, is that we can now start counting the days until the economy feels like it's out of recession. New Year's might be a little ambitious, but St. Patrick's Day might qualify.

"The clock has already started," Mr. Goldstein says.

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