A Journey of 100 Months Starts With the First Month

Finally we are getting some good news. At least most people will consider it good news. Republican Presidential candidates hoping to run against Obama on “weak economy platform” might not happy with the news.

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the January 2012 employment data.   The unemployment rate has declined again. It is now down to 8.3%.  The number of net new jobs was pleasantly above the consensus expectations.  Calculated Risk quotes the BLS for us:

From the BLS:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 243,000 in January, and the unemployment rate decreased to 8.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job growth was widespread in the private sector, with large employment gains in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. Government employment changed little over the month. … Private-sector employment grew by 257,000 …

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for November was revised from +100,000 to +157,000, and the change for December was revised from +200,000 to +203,000..

So what accounts for the increase?  As the BLS states, large gains were widespread – services, hospitality/leisure, and manufacturing. But overall positive effect compared to what was expected and to what we’ve grown accustomed is strongly due to two factors we didn’t see.  We didn’t see reductions in government employment dragging down the total numbers. I’ll have another post on that later today.  The other effect is that the weather was nice – the exact opposite of last January (2011) when the weather adversely affected the numbers.

Nonetheless, a solid increase is a solid increase and something to feel good about.  But in keeping with my skeptical self, it’s also very important to not declare victory yet. We’re not out of the woods by a long shot.  I can think of four reasons right away.

First, we’ve been here before.  As Calculated Risk explains,

Job growth started picking up early last year, but then the economy was hit by a series of shocks (oil price increase, tsunami in Japan, debt ceiling debate) – and now it appears job growth is picking up again.

Payroll jobs added per monthClick on graph for larger image.

This is the third or fourth time in this “recovery” that it appeared employment would finally be accelerating into the kind of “V-shaped” recovery we really need.  Each time before, something (often politics) interfered.

A second reason for caution involves both the employment-population ratio and the labor-force-participation rate.  Both rates are at lows we haven’t seen for 30 some years.  Both ratios indicate that large numbers of people have left the labor force and simply aren’t looking for work.  If they change their minds and start to look for work, then the unemployment rate could easily begin rising again as the denominator of the unemployment rate rises faster than employment (the numerator).

A third reason is that there are still too many unknowns on the horizon and most of them carry downside risk.  The UK and the Eurozone continue their self-inflicted austerity march into recession and flirtation with banking and default crises. House prices have continued to decline, threatening the ability of households to sustain increases in consumer spending. And there’s always the completely unknown.  Twelve months ago nobody would have considered the risk to economic growth from an earthquake that created a nuclear disaster.

The fourth reason to be cautious is the mismatch between the positive increase in employment we’ve just seen and the size of the employment gap we are facing.  This is the graph we need to keep in mind.  Again from Calculated Risk:

Percent Job Losses During Recessions

… third graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms. The dotted line is ex-Census hiring.

This shows the depth of the recent employment recession – much worst than any other post-war recession – and the relatively slow recovery due to the lingering effects of the housing bust and financial crisis.

We are far, far from leaving this employment depression behind.  Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy and Research cautioned today that, while it appears that we are on stronger path, it is still too weak.  January’s numbers seem strong only because we have grown accustomed to such abysmal recovery for the last 2-3 years.  Even at the pace January showed, it will still be 2020 before we regain full employment.  That’s 8 years away – 100 months.  Government and central banks easily lose focus on growth in a period that long.  Congress and the President, while returning to jobs now in this election season, have already shown that they couldn’t sustain a focus on job growth last year as they turned to imaginary concerns over government debt instead.

We have a long way to go.  We should be running but we’re only walking. Nonetheless, at least we’re walking forward now instead of backwards they way we were in mid-2011.

Setting the Bar Very Low: The Unemployment Report for December 2011

Well I’m back.  Yes, it’s been a longer than expected break from blogging driven by work considerations, but contrary to the rumors, I have not been “doomed”.  So it’s on to a new semester and a new resolution to post frequently. I hope 3-5 times per week.

To start things off, yesterday was the first Friday of the month which means, of course, the monthly report on employment, jobs, and the unemployment rate.  I’ll let Calculated Risk report the news and graph first:

December Employment Report: 200,000 Jobs, 8.5% Unemployment Rate

There were 200,000 payroll jobs added in December. This included 212,000 private sector jobs added, and 12,000 government jobs lost.

The following graph shows the employment population ratio, the participation rate, and the unemployment rate.

Employment Pop Ratio, participation and unemployment ratesClick on graph for larger image.

The unemployment rate declined to 8.5% (red line).

The Labor Force Participation Rate was unchanged 64.0% in December (blue line). This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force.

The Employment-Population ratio was unchanged at 58.5% in December (black line).

The good news then is that trend indicates we are creating net more jobs in the last few months than we have been doing for several years.  An unemployment rate of 8.5% is definitely a lot better than the 10% we had in 2009. And, the rate is coming down.  But we shouldn’t get too excited nor should politicians think  their work is done.  First off, although this is the strongest 3 month improvement in the rate we’ve seen since the start of the recession back in 2007, we have seen similar short trends of improvement that fizzle out. It’s always possible as some analysts have observed that the November-December numbers were driven by a surge in temporary hiring in the online retailing sector.  It’s possible that we’re only seeing  a temporary strengthening and that January and February will see a return to same stagnation we saw last summer.

Second, it’s always possible that Congress will do something incredibly stupid that dramatically cuts employment and aggregate demand immediately. A third, very serious risk is that Europe will continue to slide into government austerity-induced recession and possibly trigger a global financial crisis with the Euro.  A European slide will adversely affect our exports and depending on how severe it is, possibly reduce employment in U.S. exporting industries.  A Euro financial crisis would likely ripple back to big U.S. banks who could in turn cause problems here.

But the biggest reason that we shouldn’t be satisfied with these numbers is simple. This isn’t enough! An improvement of 200,000 net new jobs might be acceptable if we were already at full employment, but we’re not. We need to grow faster so we can put the millions of unemployed back to work.  Again back to Calculated Risk:

Percent Job Losses During RecessionsThis graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms aligned at maximum job losses.

This is the worst post WWII employment recession. However, as bad as this is, the Great Depression would be way off the chart. At the worst, employment fell a little over 6% during the recent employment recession – although the data is a little uncertain – employment probably fell by around 22% during the Great Depression.

Calculated Risk makes the point that the past few years haven’t been as severe as the Great Depression.  That’s true in the sense of how deep or severe the crisis has been.  But in terms of length, how long we go without full employment, we are clearly on a path to making this on par with the Great Depression.  The Great Depression in employment was essentially 11 years long.  Unemployment started rising in late 1929. It never fully recovered until the war spending took off in a big way in 1940-41. That’s eleven years. The current recession/depression/inadequate recovery started in late 2007. It’s at least 4 years old already.  The current pace of jobs addition puts us another 3 or so years until we recover all the jobs we lost.   So that’s a total of 7 plus years.

But as Paul Krugman points out, the population and labor force has been growing during the last 4 years.  To really reach full employment we need even more.

Let me give two back-of-the-envelope ways to think about how inadequate 200,000 jobs a month is.

First, note that there are still about 6 million fewer jobs than there were at the end of 2007 — and that we would normally have expected to have added around 5 million jobs over a four-year period. So we’re 11 million jobs down — and we need at least 100,000 jobs a month just to keep up with working-age population growth. Do the math, and you’ll see that it would take 9 or 10 years of growth at this rate to restore full employment.

Alternatively, note that during the Clinton years — all 8 of them — the economy added around 230,000 jobs a month. As it did that, the unemployment rate fell about 3 1/2 percentage points — which is about what we’d need from here to get back to something that felt like full employment. Again, this suggests that we’re looking at something like a decade-long haul to have full recovery.

So yes, this is better news than we’ve been having. But it’s still vastly inadequate.

So, yes I’m encouraged by the recent employment reports, but not very much.  I still hold to my position that when all is done and we look back on this period we’ll be referring to it as some sort of depression, not a “Great” one, but some sort of depression.

The Economy Has Caused Riots Before – In the Great Depression

Washington’s Blog reminds us that things got ugly during the last prolonged depression in the United States.  This interesting historical footage from the Great Depression shows what happens when large numbers of people are unemployed for years at a time, get desperate, and perceive that the game is rigged to the benefit of Wall Street.

This depression isn’t as deep or severe as the Great Depression – the bank bailouts and the 2009 Obama stimulus spending/tax cut bill (ARRA) made sure of that.  But as this week’s GDP numbers show, we simply aren’t growing enough to fully recover.  For workers, the nightmare is real.  With the #OccupyWallStreet movement (#OWS) growing stronger, spreading, and continuing now for well over 6 weeks, perhaps the Wall Street banks are having nightmares of their own about such scenarios as what happened in the video.  Could that be why JP Morgan Chase bank is making such large payoffs donations to the New York City Police department?  Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism fills us in:

Is JP Morgan Getting a Good Return on $4.6 Million “Gift” to NYC Police? (Like Special Protection from OccupyWallStreet?)

No matter how you look at this development, it does not smell right. From JP Morgan’s website, hat tip Lisa Epstein:

JPMorgan Chase recently donated an unprecedented $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation. The gift was the largest in the history of the foundation and will enable the New York City Police Department to strengthen security in the Big Apple. The money will pay for 1,000 new patrol car laptops, as well as security monitoring software in the NYPD’s main data center.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sent CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon a note expressing “profound gratitude” for the company’s donation.

“These officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe,” Dimon said. “We’re incredibly proud to help them build this program and let them know how much we value their hard work.”

But what, pray tell, is this about? The JPM money is going directly from the foundation to the NYPD proper, not to, say, cops injured in the course of duty or police widows and orphans…

And look at the magnitude of the JP Morgan “gift”. The Foundation has been in existence for 40 years. If you assume that the $100 million it has received over that time is likely to mean “not much over $100 million” this contribution could easily be 3-4% of the total the Foundation have ever received.

Now readers can point out that this gift is bupkis relative to the budget of the police department, which is close to $4 billion. But looking at it on a mathematical basis likely misses the incentives at work. Dimon is one of the most powerful and connected corporate leaders in Gotham City. If he thinks the police donation was worthwhile, he might encourage other bank and big company CEOs to make large donations.

And what sort of benefits might JPM get? It is unlikely that there would be anything as crass as an explicit quid pro quo. But it certainly is useful to be confident that the police are on your side, say if an executive or worse an entire desk is caught in a sex or drugs scandal. Recall that Charles Ferguson in Inside Job alleged that the use of hookers is pervasive on Wall Street (duh) and is invoiced to the banks.

Or the police might be extra protective of your interests. Today, [Oct 5] OccupyWallStreet decided to march across the Brooklyn Bridge (a proud New York tradition) to Chase Manhattan Plaza in Brooklyn. Reports in the media indicate that the police at first seemed to be encouraging the protestors not only to cross the bridge, but were walking in front of the crowd, seemingly escorting them across…

The wee problem is that the police are in the street, and part of the crowd is also on the street (others are on a pedestrian walkway that is above street level). That puts them in violation of NYC rules that against interfering with traffic. Note the protest were aware fo the rules; they were careful to stay on the sidewalk on the way to the bridge.

…some (many?) the protestors who used the walkway and got across the bridge were also corralled and not permitted to proceed to the Chase plaza. Greg Basta, deputy director of the New York Communities for Change, told me by phone, based on multiple reports from people who participated in the march, that as soon as protestors got to the Brooklyn side of the bridge, they were kettled. Greg was under the impression that there were construction barricades at the foot of the bridge which made it impossible for the marchers not to walk on the street. Because the focus has been on the what happened on the bridge, the coverage of what happened to the rest of crowd is sparse.

Some confirmation in passing comes from MsExPat at Corrente (apparently some of the very first off the bridge were permitted to proceed):

My friends and I made it to the Brooklyn side okay–we ended up with about 350 other marchers in Cadman Plaza, a lovely 19th century park. What I didn’t find out until later is that several hundred people behind me also got kettled and barred from going all the way to Brooklyn. So I was among the lucky marchers in the middle.

But notice even then that the procession to Chase Manhattan Plaza [correction, Cadman Plaza} was effectively barred. [Note JPM may have operations nearby, Bear Stearns had much of its back office there, and if the leases were cheap, JPM may have kept the space].

We simply don’t know whether the police would have behaved one iota differently in the absence of the JP Morgan donation. But it raises the troubling perspective that they might have. …

So far, the JP Morgan donation is an isolated example. But the high odds of continuing deep budget cuts at the state and local level open up the opportunity for corporate funding of preferred services, and with it, much greater private sector influence on the apparatus of government. This is a worrisome enough possibility to warrant a high degree of vigilance by all of us.

Jobs And Unemployment Report For August 2011 – More Bad News, More Signs Economy Is Stalled, No Net New Jobs

This being the first Friday of the month, the latest U.S. employment report was released this morning.  Not good news.  In a nutshell:  no new net jobs created and the unemployment rate holds steady at 9.1%. It disappointed even the weak expectations of forecasters. The news continues to show an economy that has stalled without recovering and is in danger of relapsing to recession. CalculatedRiskBlog does it’s usual exemplary reporting of the latest monthly jobs and unemployment report:

From the BLS:

Nonfarm payroll employment was unchanged (0) in August, and the unemployment rate held at 9.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment in most major industries changed little over the month. Health care continued to add jobs, and a decline in information employment reflected a strike. Government employment continued to trend down, despite the return of workers from a partial government shutdown in Minnesota.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for June was revised from
+46,000 to +20,000, and the change for July was revised from +117,000 to +85,000.

The following graph shows the employment population ratio, the participation rate, and the unemployment rate.

Employment Pop Ratio, participation and unemployment ratesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

The unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.1% (red line).

When looking at the detailed numbers we find that the private sector created a net total of 17,000 new jobs.  Unfortunately this was entirely offset by government reducing employment by 17,000 jobs.  I suppose for Tea Party and Conservative types who blame government for most all economic ills and who fantasize about a society with no government, this is moving towards their ideal economy.  Somehow, I don’t see it that way.

Further details behind the numbers show that the number of private sector jobs was likely understated by 45,000 since during the survey week the 45,000 Verizon workers who were on strike were not counted as having jobs.  Those jobs will return in the report on September, assuming Verizon doesn’t lay off some of them.

Overall, the picture for recovering from the Great Recession has been turning bleaker.  We were never on a very robust path for recovery at all during the last 2 years.  However, now what modest slow momentum we had towards job recovery has stalled and job recovery has essentially flatlined.  At the current rate, we never recover the jobs lost in 2008-09 until at least a decade has passed, if that.  This is definitely starting to look like depression territory, not “recession”.  The following graph, also from Calculated Risk,


Percent Job Losses During Recessions

The second graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms. The dotted line is ex-Census hiring.

The red line is moving sideways – and I’ll need to expand the graph soon.

The current employment recession is by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms, and 2nd worst in terms of the unemploymentrate (only the early ’80s recession with a peak of 10.8 percent was worse).

The details in the report also show more depressing (sorry for the pun) news:

  • U-6, an alternate unemployment rate measure that includes both traditional unemployed (no job but looking), part-time workers who want but can’t full-time hours, and some other marginally-attached workers has risen to 16.2%, a new high for this year.
  • There are 13.967 million Americans unemployed now.
  • Of those unemployed workers, 6.0 million have been without a job and looking for work for over 6 months.
  • The previous reported totals for both June and July were revised downward.

 

The Mess We’re In – Trillions of Dollars of Missing GDP

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the U.S. has a cumulative output gap of $2.8 trillion so far since the recession began.  That’s trillion with a TR, as in a million millions.  This is the core problem in the U.S. today and for the next couple years.  The recession saw the economy shrink and we simply haven’t aren’t getting back to where we were, let alone to where we could be.

Two of the most basic concepts in economics are the idea of opportunity costs and the technique of the counter-factual.   Both play a part in this analysis.  First, opportunity cost is the idea of the real cost of something or some choice isn’t the money expended but rather what you could have done but didn’t/can’t because of your choice.  Analyzing opportunity costs involves using the other idea, the technique of the counterfactual.  A counterfactual is a hypothetical outcome that could have been or even would have been, but didn’t happen because of the choices made.  People use counterfactuals often, they just don’t call them such.  For example, if you imagine decide not to go to a party and you choose to stay home one night, you might imagine what would have happened if you had indeed gone to the party.  That’s a counterfactual.  It could be good and attractive (you would have had fun at the party and met someone very interesting) or it good be negative (you would have gotten drunk, tried to drive home, and got arrested for DUI).  Comparing actual events to counterfactuals is integral to economic analysis.

In the case of macroeconomics, we often use a counterfactual called “potential GDP”.  Potential real GDP is the amount of real GDP that would have been produced IF we had made policy choices that produced full-employment.  In practice potential real GDP is often estimated by a combination of extending the long-run trend line of GDP from previous decades and of calculating output per worker and multiplying times the number of potential workers.  In this case, the additional workers include not only those presently recorded as “unemployed” but also those workers or part of the population that used to work but are no longer working or classified as unemployed.  It’s a fairly involved statistical undertaking, but fortunately we have the CBO to do the heavy lifting for us.  The numbers and graphs are accessible via the wonderful FRED database at the St.Louis Federal Reserve bank.  The data series is called GDPPOT.

The CBO released it’s latest long-run estimates for GDP.  Here’s a graph comparing potential real GDP to actual Real GDP. It shows actual numbers for 2008- first half of 2011.  From then on it’s the CBO’s best estimates of future actual real GDP given present government policies.

Yeah, that’s an ugly gap between those two lines.  That’s the opportunity cost of lost potential.  We could have been $2.8 trillion dollars better off over the last 3 years (cumulative, not annual). We could have had tens of millions more working. But we didn’t.  More disturbing is that we will continue to underperform for many years.  The CBO doesn’t project getting back to full-employment and our achieving our potential output until the end of 2015 – four years from now.

But now here’s the catch.  The CBO estimates and analysis don’t offer any rationale or reason why they suddenly forecast a recovery in 2015.  Basically they are saying that surely something will happen in 2015 to bring recovery, but they can’t point to any policies or dynamics that will cause such a recovery.

My own sense is that this will take a lot longer to recover given the government’s current focus on debt, deficits, and cutting spending.  It’s the wrong policy mix to achieve full employment given this kind of output gap.  We will eventually get back to full employment – if nothing else, sooner or later people die off and equipment rusts away.  But we’re in the middle of an ongoing depression and current policies won’t change that.  (note I said depression, not a “Great depression”)

 

We Have A Debt-Ceiling Deal. The Economy Loses.

Earlier this week the absurd and totally unnecessary debate in Washington over raising the national debt-ceiling came to an agreement, both houses of Congress passed it, and the President signed it.  Earlier this week I gave this metaphor for the deal, wondering why we need enemies with “friends” like our representatives in Washington.  Now that I’ve had a little more time to reflect, read some more on the details, comment on radio & TV about it, I think I was too easy on it.  It’s worse than it first appears.

This deal doesn’t “guarantee” that the U.S. government will reduce it’s deficit and maintain “solvency” (a non-concept for a sovereign country with a central bank).  Instead, this deal is more likely to guarantee that our economic non-recovery does, indeed, become at least a lost decade, if not a depression.  Right now I want to look at the economic impact of the deal.  In another post I’ll look at another casualty of the deal and the probably political-economy impact.

So what does the deal do specifically?  Well the details are fairly complex, even by Washington standards.  Right now the debt ceiling rises by $400 billion – enough to last for probably 3-4 months.  No real cuts will happen for maybe 60 more days.  Then starting in October 2011, which is the start of the government’s fiscal year 2012 budget (see here for definition of fiscal year), the action begins. Caps on spending start.  There are no tax or revenue changes in the deal.  It starts modestly with only $21 billion in spending cuts in 2012, although many of those cuts will be felt painfully by many citizens.  Students in graduate school in particular will feel the pinch in their pocket. Then in the remaining 9 years of the deal, there will be at least another $896 billion in reduced spending, amounting to about $100 billion less spending per year than currently planned.

This total of $917 billion in reduced spending is only the start though.  Congress is going to appoint a “special joint committee” of 12 members to recommend and additional $1.2-1.5 trillion in either spending cuts or tax revenue increases over the next 10 years.  (if you believe that committee with half Republicans will allow any revenue increases, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale).  If Congress doesn’t adopt those cuts, then Medicare payments, defense spending, and other discretionary spending would automatically by cut across the board. Either way spending gets cut another $1.2 trillion for the years 2013-2022.

This deal is supposed to raise the debt ceiling enough to get us through the end  of 2012 and the presidential election before the debt ceiling has to be raised again, sparing us this debate.  Don’t bet the your house on that though because House Republicans are betting they can keep this debate alive through then.  Basically Congress has created an elaborate mechanism in this law that increases the debt ceiling in several steps between now and the end of 2012.  But the way it’s done is that the debt ceiling keeps going up unless Congress votes to stop it (which the President would then veto).  It’s  a way for Republicans to keep talking about the debt and deficit, to keep recording “votes” against it, but all the time knowing that the debt ceiling will rise because it has to.  Pure politics at the expense of the country.

Right now the economy has over 9% unemployment.  Inflation is so low that deflation is actually the threat. The economy has effectively stalled or at least reached “stall speed”, threatening another double-dip recession.  This is not the time to be cutting spending.  To the degree spending cuts are necessary, they should happen when the economy is at or nearing full employment, not now.  At this time the economy needs all the spending it can find whether it’s from consumers, firms, or government.  And right now, firms and consumers are pulling back and keeping their wallets closed.  The government needs to step up and fill the gap.

So bottom-line, what should we expect?  I’ve seen several estimates from folks with more sophisticated econometric models than I can access.  My own back-of-the-envelope calculations and intuition say the drag on the economy is significant.  In 2012, this deal is probably going to take up to another 0.4 percentage points off of GDP growth.  The real damage starts in 2013 with a reduction closer to 1%.  Remember we’ve only grown at 0.8% rate so far in the first half of 2011, so 2012 will be close to zero growth and 2013 will likely be negative unless some other source of growth and spending can be found.  Looking around, it’s hard to imagine where that could be.  Instead I see nothing but possible negative risks: Europe imploding in a currency and austerity crisis, China having to pull back to slow their inflation, the housing mess in the U.S. is still bad, U.S. banks aren’t as healthy as they claim.

The estimates I’ve seen are similar.  Economic Policy Institute says the debt ceiling deal with cost us 1.8 million jobs in 2012 alone. The same article reports:

Top economists and CEO’s have also weighed in against the deal and said that GOP concessions to the Tea Party will cost our economy dearly. Pimco CEO Mohamed El-Erian warned that the deal will lead to less growth, more unemployment, and more inequality. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called the plan “a disaster” and “an abject surrender” that will “depress the economy even further.”

The Center for American Progress’s Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden argue that while the deal “goes straight in the wrong direction,” Congress can redeem itself by using the so-called “super committee” mandated by the bill to focus on job creation. The committee, made up of six Republicans and six Democrats, is tasked with finding an additional $1.5 trillion of deficit reduction over the next 10 years, and must report a plan by Thanksgiving.

It’s noteworthy that J.P.Morgan Chase Bank’s research department, as representative of Wall Street as any, says that overall with this deal, government budget policy in 2012 subtract at least 1.5% points from GDP growth rate in 2012.  Since  it takes at least 2% growth in GDP to keep unemployment stable and we haven’t even had a single quarter of growth at more than a 4% rate since the end of 2006, things look grim for employment.

The cutters and austerians have won.  They will make a wasteland of the economy in the name of fighting the deficit.

What to Call This Unpleasantness? Little Depression or Workers’ Depression?

Brad Delong has had enough.  So have I.

“The Little Depression”

Back in late 2008 people asked me: is this a recession or a depression? I said that I would call it a depression if the unemployment rate kissed 12%. I said that I would call it a depression if the unemployment rate stayed above 10% for a year.

Neither of those has come to pass. But the unemployment rate has kissed 10%, and has stayed at or above 9% for two years now.

So I am moving the goalposts. I am adopting a suggestion in comments of Full Employment Hawk . Henceforth, I will call the current unpleasantness not “The Great Recession,” but rather “The Little Depression.”

It’s a good question.  In late 2008 when people were asking me, I said I wasn’t sure.  It would either be “The Great Recession” or “The Lesser Depression”, I said.  Eventually I fell in line with most commentators and referred to it as “Great Recession”.  But with the continuing bad, very bad, news on employment, wages, and growth, I’m with Brad.  We need to call this what it is.  It’s not been a “Great Recession”.  Recessions are events when the central bank says things have gotten out of hand, they raise interest rates, and everybody sobers up.  Then after an appropriate time of perhaps 6-12 months, the growth machine fires up and we start to regain lost territory.  This is different. We aren’t regaining lost ground and people are suffering.

What most folks are calling the “Great Recession” I think we ought to call the “Panic of 2008”.  It was, after all, a good old-fashioned financial panic updated with 21st century technology and corporate forms. It lasted roughly the time period the NBER says was the recession.

What has me going though is the continuing poor conditions for the millions of Americans.  This unpleasantness has gone on too long and been too severe to call it recession.  It’s a depression of some form.  The problem here is how to distinquish it semantically from the Great Depression of 1929-1940, or the Long Depression of 1873-1896.  My personal preference is for Workers’ Depression.  I think it sums it up.  For the banks and rentier classes, it’s good times again.  It’s only for working stiffs that things continue so ugly.  But if people want to use “Little Depression”, I could go along for the sake of clarity.