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Going in Circles: The Merry-Go-Round Economy

Wall Street Journal (08/21/12) Ben Casselman

Since the recession ended three years ago, the U.S. economy has been more like a merry-go-round, with some movement but never really going anywhere. A month ago, economists were talking seriously about whether the U.S. was headed back into a recession, but now, after a series of encouraging indicators the economy appears to be again moving. However, the larger truth is that the economy has been stuck more or less in neutral since the recession ended.

Dave Altig, an economist and blogger for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, notes gross domestic product has been growing at a rate of roughly 2% since 2010. Job growth has bounced around a lot month to month, but over time has averaged a relatively consistent 150,000 jobs per month since the start of 2011. Inflation has been a bit more volatile, but remains at or a bit below the Fed’s unofficial 2% target rate.

That kind of sluggish growth is disappointing to anyone expecting the U.S. to return quickly to its prerecession path, as it has after many past recessions. However, it is actually standard for a post-financial-crisis recovery, according to economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, who looked at eight centuries of financial crises and found it consistently takes years for economies to get back on their feet. That suggests the U.S. economic merry-go-round still has a few turns left to go.