This morning, David Leonhardt asks:
Is the economy only a little worse than it was in the last couple recessions, as some have said, and still a long way from the dark days of 1982? Or are we instead on our way toward something that may even approach the severity of the Great Depression? Without more specifics, it is hard to judge the staggering stimulus numbers being thrown around Washington. It is hard to know how tough a task the Obama administration is facing — and whether it’s running the risk of being too timid or too aggressive.
I thought it would make sense to get some clearer historical perspective, and the economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics were nice enough to help me do so. In the last week, they helped me put together a broad measure of the job market — one including both official unemployment and more subtle kinds — stretching back to 1970. Since the job market covers the entire economy and affects families in tangible ways, it seems to be the single best yardstick.
And it shows, for starters, that the economy is not yet as bad as it was in the early 1980s. It’s not even that close to being as bad. The ranks of unemployed and underemployed, controlling for the size of the population, were much larger in 1982 than today.
Many people would disagree with the statement that 1982 was worse than 2008-09 is. But I think David is onto something when he notes:
First, the economic expansion that just ended wasn’t as good as the 1970s expansions. The ’70s get a bad rap, and deservedly so in many ways. But median family income still rose 2 percent during the decade, after adjusting for inflation. Over the past decade, it has fallen.
Second, people seem to understand that the worst is yet to come — that the economy has not yet worked off its excesses.
Nice chart, too
The Economy Is Bad, but 1982 Was Worse
NYT, January 20, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/business/economy/21leonhardt.html