No one statistical figure represents the economy.
This observation is not the result of academic nit-picking; it stems from the fact that the economy is many things, many different things, to many people, even to economists.
That is one reason the recent report that the deflated gross national product , real GNP, was slightly higher in second quarter 1982 than in the first quarter was greeted with contradictory opinions from economists on whether the economy had ended a recession and started a recovery. Such assessments are more forecasts of what is going to happen than of what has happened.
The difference between a forecast and a description of what has happened is simple enough.
Even though ''the economy'' was up in second-quarter 1982, as reflected in the preliminary second-quarter 1982 GNP figure, it would have to continue substantially upward for at least one more quarter for the recession to be deemed ended and recovery begun on the basis of GNP alone, apart from other statistics.
Therefore, any declaration that even the GNP recession is over involves a forecast of at least third-quarter 1982.
If third-quarter GNP declines by more than the second-quarter increase, the second-quarter increase would not have represented the end of the GNP recession.
But GNP is just one measure of the economy, albeit an important measure. Other measures include employment, unemployment, personal income, corporate profits, the money supply, interest rates, common-stock prices, the production of manufacturers, mines, and utilities as distinct from services, construction, commercial and industrial loans, business failures, and on and on.
The so-called ''official'' arbiter of whether the economy is in a recession or not - the National Bureau of Economic Research committee for determining peak and trough dates of the business cycle - looks at many of these measures before it decides if the economy is moving in a major upward or downward direction.
A measure called the coincident composite index combines nonagricultural employment, deflated personal income less transfer payments, deflated manufacturing and trade sales, and the Federal Reserve Board's index of industrial production.
Based on the data available as this article is written, it appears as follows for each of the 1982 months through June. Jan. Feb. March April May June 134.2 135.8 134.9 133.9 134.5 133.7
Its most recent month, June, is the lowest month for the year thus far, even lower than April, which was depressed by unusually severe winter weather.
Further, the quarterly average of the coincident composite index for the second quarter is 134.0, compared with the first-quarter average of 135.0
Clearly, this measure of the economy, based on data now available, has not turned upward.
That there is no single economy should come as no great shock. Most of us have become accustomed to discussing at least two economies - that of the Republicans, and that of the Democrats. But clearly there are others - the businessman's economy, the working man's economy, the black man's economy, the white man's economy, the teen-ager's economy, the senior citizen's economy, the male's economy, the female's economy, and so on.
Your economy and mine are not the same. When your economy is moving upward, no one will have to tell you about it. You will know it yourself. If you are now unemployed and you find work, your economy will be up, notwithstanding GNP, industrial production, or any coincident composite index.
However, the contradictions themselves are evidence that something has changed with respect to the economy, regardless of your individual situation.
Several months ago there were very few contradictions. Virtually every economic measure that was supposed to worsen during a recession was worsening.
Today, the signs of improvement here and there tell us the economy is undergoing a change. Thus, while we cannot point to any one conclusive statistic , we can report that the process of turning from widespread improvement is under way. The process appears to be taking longer than usual; but it is occurring.