The Economy Is Almost Back to Pre-Recession Levels

If you count jobs, yes. If you count wages… maybe.

Photo credit: Andrew Malone, CC BY 2.0. (This photo was taken on August 15, 2007.)

You know how everyone keeps saying the recession is over? Or maybe over? Or it was over a long time ago but we’re still feeling the effects?

Well, now we can celebrate, because the economy is officially almost back to where it was in 2007.

Analysis | America’s economy has been made adequate again

By most measures, the economy is finally back to where it was before the Great Recession hit. All it took was eight years of slow-and-steady job growth.

The URL on this Washington Post article indicates that the original headline was probably “A decade later, America’s economy is back where it started,” and that’s a disheartening, if accurate, way to put it: ten years after the economic crash, we’re finally back where we were… right before the crash.

And we’re talking 2007, not 1997. The mid 2000s weren’t super great, economically, at least from the perspective of a Millennial who had just learned that her graduating class of 2004 would be the first class to do less well than their parents. I will never tire of citing Anna Quindlen’s 2004 essay “An Apology to the Graduates,” nor its prediction:

There’s an honorable tradition of starving students; it’s just that, between the outsourcing of jobs and a boom market in real estate, your generation envisions becoming starving adults.

But back to the Washington Post. Tell us how well we’re doing!

But our “new normal” hasn’t returned us to normalcy just yet. Take what are called “prime-age” workers. These are 25- to 54-year-olds who, for the most part, should be too old to still be in school but too young to be retired. Before the crash, 80.2 percent of them were working, but afterward, that fell to 74.8 percent. Today, that has rebounded to 78.6 percent, which is about three-quarters of the way back to where it was — or, in other words, about two years away from the recovery reaching its final destination.

Wait, is this a “Cs get degrees” thing? Are you grading the economic recovery on a pass/fail? “Three-quarters of the way to pre-recession levels” is not the same as “back to pre-recession levels!”

And then the WaPo starts talking about wages, which are… hahahahahahahaha, um, you know what wages have been like, they’ve been mostly stagnant with a little bit of growth.

You might also remember my writeup of last week’s Washington Post economic analysis, in which they also noted that jobs were increasing faster than wages:

In Q1 2017, the Economy Grew at Its Slowest Pace in Three Years

In other words: it doesn’t matter how many jobs you have if your wages aren’t growing. It doesn’t matter how much you’re earning if you don’t have real disposable personal income.

What does this mean? I keep thinking of that episode of The X-Files when Mulder and Scully were stuck inside the cave, and they keep thinking they’ve made it out—they’re like, in Skinner’s office, talking about how glad they are to be out of the cave—and then the background shimmers a little bit and they look at each other and realize they’re still in the cave.

That episode aired on May 9, 1999, which is coincidental only because the Washington Post ends its article this way:

There’s no frothiness in the stock market or housing market that should force the Fed to tighten too much, no signs of excess that should make us think this [recovery] can’t go on for a long while still.

That is, if the Fed will let it. Then we wouldn’t just be partying like it’s 2007, but maybe, just maybe, like it’s — yes — 1999.

I hope it doesn’t take us another ten years to get three-quarters of the way there.

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