It turns out the recession ended more than a year ago.
Feeling better now?
The panel that determines the timing of recessions concluded Monday that this one ended — technically, anyway — in June 2009, and lasted 18 months. The duration makes it the longest since World War II.
It may be over, but you won’t be hearing any cheers from the millions of Americans who are struggling to find a job. Or are worried about the ones they have. Or have lost their homes. Or are behind on the mortgage.
“Every single one of the individuals who wrote the report needs a serious reality check,” said Bob Johnson of the Queens borough of New York, who is 46, had worked in communications and has been looking for a job for more than three years.
Not that it’s the fault of the academics — in this case the National Bureau of Economic Research, a group of economists based in Cambridge, Mass. It’s their job to declare when recessions officially begin and end.
Their finding is one that economic historians spend a lot of time pondering. Politicians care, too. They don’t want to be blamed for downturns that happen on their watch.
One of those politicians is President Barack Obama, who inherited the recession — it began in December 2007, according to the bureau. Obama found little reason Monday to celebrate that it had officially ended.
“The hole was so deep that a lot of people out there are still hurting,” the president, whose Democratic Party faces a likely setback in the midterm elections, said at a town-hall meeting sponsored by CNBC.
Obama has made a point of noting small signs of progress in the economy, which is growing slowly. Some Democrats have urged him to stop boasting about any progress at all, for fear that it irks people who feel things aren’t getting better and makes politicians seem out of touch.
For Melody Brooke, a 55-year-old marriage and family counselor in Lewisville, Texas, it didn’t feel in her household as if the recession ended 15 months ago. Her household finances were in shambles at the time.
“It felt like the heat of it for us,” Brooke said.
Her outlook is starting to brighten. Her husband finally found full-time work about a month ago. And Brooke’s counseling business is picking up: She’s on track to make about $35,000 for the year.
For the rest of the country, the statistics are familiar and grim. Since the recession began, 7.3 million jobs have disappeared. Nearly 2.5 million homes have been repossessed. Unemployment is at 9.6 percent.
Since the technical end of the recession, the economy has been growing. But the growth has been painfully slow.
How slow? The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development figures the U.S. economy will grow 2.6 percent this year. It would take growth twice that fast to drive down unemployment by a single percentage point.
Unemployment usually keeps rising well after a recession ends. That’s because it takes time for companies to gain confidence in the economy, know that customer demand will last, and add jobs.
But for the past few recessions, it’s taken longer and longer for unemployment to come down. In 1982, for example, unemployment peaked the same month the recession ended. After the 2001 recession, the gap was 19 months.
This time around, it’s been 15 months, and economists don’t expect unemployment to come down significantly anytime soon.
In part, that’s because of how the unemployment rate is calculated. It’s based on a survey of households. Only out-of-work people who are looking for jobs are counted as unemployed. Those who have quit looking out of discouragement aren’t included. As the economy improves, more of these people will start looking for jobs and will be counted again as unemployed. That will drive up the unemployment rate, at least for a while.
To make its call on the end of a recession, the bureau looks at the stats behind the gross domestic product, which measures the total value of the economy. Plus, it reviews incomes, employment and industrial activity.
The bureau pointed out that a downturn in the economy anytime soon would now mark the start of a new recession. The last time that happened was in 1981 and 1982, most economists believe.
The last recession that lasted longer than this one was, well, something far worse than a recession: The Great Depression. It included a downturn of three and a half years, ending in 1933, and another lasting more than a year, ending in 1938.
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