`We're not looking for sound bites - all we want are the facts, gentlemen'

MICHAEL DUKAKIS the other day cited television cop Joe Friday's famous saying in the ``Dragnet'' series: ``Just the facts, Ma'am.'' Unfortunately, in looking at economics, the two presidential candidates often give one-sided ``facts,'' if not stretching the ``facts.'' Here's an attempt to provide ``just the facts'' about the economy.

The economic expansion next month will celebrate its sixth birthday, the longest peacetime expansion ever. The consensus of 61 economic forecasters polled by Blue Chip Economic Indicators (Sedona, Ariz.) points to growth in total output next year slowing to 2.4 percent in real terms. About one-half the economists expect a recession in 1990.

In terms of vigor, the current expansion is only average or slightly below average, depending on whether the rate of increase in gross national product - the total output of goods and services - is measured from the previous cyclical peak or from the trough of the 1981-82 recession.

The ``misery index'' - the addition of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate - has dropped from 17.9 percent in January 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, to 9.7 percent now. Inflation is running about 4.1 percent this year. This increase in the consumer price index is well below the 10 percent annual average for the years 1979-82, but twice the 2 percent 1960-68 annual average.

Looking at the federal budget deficit, it will likely run between $150 billion and $155 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That's about the same as the year before. But because of a special revenue surge in fiscal 1987, it represents progress.

After eliminating inflation, federal spending rose at a 3.2 percent average annual rate from 1970 to 1980, at a 3.6 percent rate in the early Reagan years (1980-86), and at a 0.2 percent rate from 1986 to 1988. The administration and Congress have cut growth in spending to about the inflation rate.

Federal spending as a proportion of GNP has fallen from a peak of 24.3 percent in 1983 to 22.3 percent in fiscal 1988. The comparable numbers for federal revenues have risen from 18.1 percent to 19 percent.

As a result, the budget deficit has declined from 6.3 percent of GNP in 1983 to 3.2 percent in 1988. Outstanding federal debt held by the public has risen from $715 billion at the end of fiscal 1980 to about $2,025 billion now.

The number of poor in 1980 amounted to 29.3 million, or 13 percent of the population just before the last recession. Statistics for 1987 put the poor at 32.5 million, or 13.5 percent of the population.

Real per capita income has risen $1,500 since 1981, to $12,287 a year. The black population is split between a poor lower class and a growing middle class. On average, though, black per capita income is up a real 15 percent. In the same time span, the overall average hourly wage has fallen 2.6 percent in real terms to $8.98. This does not, however, reflect an increase in fringe benefits of about 42 percent since 1981. Factory workers' wages fell 10 percent in real terms to $9.91 an hour. Moreover, because of increasing productivity and import pressures, there are fewer workers in such high-paying industries as steel and automobiles. Some 960,000 factory jobs have disappeared. But the output of manufactured goods in physical terms has remained about the same proportion of total GNP. Employees in financial services, insurance, and real estate enjoyed a 9 percent rise in real terms in their wages, to $8.73 an hour. -30-{et

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