Has the 'great recession' ended?


This is the question of the moment for many economists and analysts and policymakers, although the relevance of the answer will vary widely across the country. Will someone who has been unemployed for seven months or longer (which is now the average duration) celebrate when the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) officially dates the end of the recession?

In a recent research note, William Hester of Hussman Funds examines the four primary indicators tracked by the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee: Industrial Production, Real Manufacturing and Trade Sales, Real Personal Income Less Transfer Payments, and Nonfarm Payrolls. Many readers won't be surprised to learn that the first two indicators have bounced back nicely, in line with prior recoveries.

The Manufacturing and Trade chart is similar, although with not quite the same "V" shape as Industrial Production. Personal Income has risen in the last several months, but so far is merely flat-lining rather than rising. But as you can guess, it's the employment situation that will continue to weigh on the economy:

Yikes. Hester points out that the trend of NonFarm Payrolls thus far tracks quite closely the "jobless recovery" that followed the 2001 recession. That recession was said to be over in November 2001, but employment didn't recover for about two years and the bear market persisted for another year. As Hester notes, "it would go against precedent for [NBER] to declare the end of a recession with the mixed signals that are currently in place."

So what do you think? Is the Great Recession over? If it is, does it matter? Don Peck has a very disheartening piece in the newest Atlantic predicting a "long shadow" that will stretch across the economy for several years to come and will even produce a "slow motion social catastrophe," wrecking marriages, cities, and quality of life for whole swathes of the United States.

It's a perpetual temptation for every generation to declare its time to be historic, for everyone to perceive themselves as living through some sort of inflection point. Such time-centrist sentiment often proves unfounded, but occasionally the signals are so overpowering that you can't help wondering: is this the moment when everything changed?

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