Jesus, Just Tell Us When the Recession's Over, OK?

The gross domestic product fell one percent last quarter. What does that mean?

According to the Wall Street Journal, it means that "the U.S. recession appears to be near an end." But according to the Wall Street Journal, the "mixed GDP report" was "just enough to keep investors' recent optimism alive."

If you'd like to see both sentiments combined into one paragraph, also from the Wall Street Journal, here you go:

The U.S. recession appears to be near an end, government figures suggest, even as revisions to prior years' data show that the downturn has been even more severe than previously thought.

So things are worse than we knew, and getting better than we expected. The first quarter GDP decline was 6.4%, not 5.5% like we previously thought. But the decline last quarter was only 1%, not 1.5%, like we expected.

Our question: How do we know that we won't be revising this very data a year from now to show that last quarter's slowdown was "more severe than previously thought"? The Commerce Department, which released the report, is saying, "When we said things were bad, but not that bad, earlier this year, we were wrong. Things were really bad. Anyhoo, things were bad last quarter, but not that bad. See you later!"

Still, the 1% drop is smaller than previous quarters, and most economists say it points to actual growth soon. This chart of monthly "real GDP" growth from USA Today is heartening in that regard, and shows us edging out of a recession that bottomed out in March.

Jesus, Just Tell Us When the Recession's Over, OK?


Whatever it means, one thing is important: It means nothing to you. The end of the recession will not mean the end to high unemployment, nor will it mean the end to wage stagnation. The economic indicators that actually impact the ability for non-rich people to acquire the things they need or want are still abysmal. But it will still no doubt be comforting for you to read about growing quarterly profits for the corporations that spent the last year-and-a-half laying off 6.5 million people.

The sad thing is it looks like Newsweek was right.