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Economic recovery is weakest since World War II

Wednesday, August 15, 2012 | 1:46 PM    

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WASHINGTON, USA (AP) - 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, 10 US 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 post-war 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: 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 per cent 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 US economy has other problems, too. Europe's troubles have undermined consumer and business confidence on both sides of the Atlantic. And the deeply divided US political system has delivered growth-chilling uncertainty.

As weak as this recovery is, it's nothing like what the US went through in the 1930s. The period known as the Great Depression actually included two severe recessions separated by a recovery that lasted from March 1933 until May 1937.

It's tough to compare the current recovery with the 1933-37 version. Economic figures comparable to today's go back only to the late 1940s. But calculations by economist Robert Coen, professor emeritus at Northwestern University, suggest that things were far bleaker during the recovery three-quarters of a century ago: Coen found that unemployment remained well above 10 percent - and usually above 15 per cent - throughout the 1930s.

Only the approach and outbreak of World War II - the ultimate government stimulus program - restored the economy and the job market to full health.

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