If the economy falls back into recession, as many economists are now warning, the bloodletting could be a lot more painful than the last time around.
Given the tumult of the Great Recession, this may be hard to believe. But the economy is much weaker than it was at the outset of the last recession in December 2007, with most major measures of economic health — including jobs, incomes, output and industrial production — worse today than they were back then. And growth has been so weak that almost no ground has been recouped, even though a recovery technically started in June 2009.
“It would be disastrous if we entered into a recession at this stage, given that we haven’t yet made up for the last recession,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economist at RDQ Economics.
When the last downturn hit, the credit bubble left Americans with lots of fat to cut, but a new one would force families to cut from the bone. Making things worse, policy makers used most of the economic tools at their disposal to combat the last recession, and have few options available.
Still, the numbers are daunting. In the four years since the recession began, the civilian working-age population has grown by about 3 percent. If the economy were healthy, the number of jobs would have grown at least the same amount.
Instead, the number of jobs has shrunk. Today the economy has 5 percent fewer jobs — or 6.8 million — than it had before the last recession began. The unemployment rate was 5 percent then, compared with 9.1 percent today.
Even those Americans who are working are generally working less; the typical private sector worker has a shorter workweek today than four years ago.