The Great Recession has been over for five years, but in many ways the economy still feels like we are still in the recovery stages.
In 2001 the business cycle was coming to an end when 9/11 exacerbated the situation. Workers in most sectors were touched by the recession. Fortunately, we could blame the downturn on the terrorists.
The country rallied, and with fiscal policies such as zero percent financing we recovered – some would say it was a false recovery because we stole sales from the future. By 2007 we were confident that all would be well, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
In both recessions many families were hit hard, regardless of race, job title, or income level. In some cases one or both spouses lost their job, establishments went out of business, people had their houses foreclosed on, and there was no place to hide. Both recessions touched nearly everyone and the fact they were back-to-back doubled the pain.
In 2007 most economists did not see the 2007 recession coming and when they realized something was wrong, they failed to acknowledge that it was for real. In fact some of the state’s leading economists were in denial. (It is almost funny to re-read newspaper articles and emails from that era talking about the economy.)
In retrospect there were some small signs pointing to the 2007 recession, such as declines in financial employment. These signs weren’t sufficient to make anyone believe a major downturn was impending. For the most part, the public did not have access to the data and information that caused the problem. Many of those who had access to the information may not have understood the ramifications of what was actually happening. In some cases those who had access to the information conveniently ignored it. As business leaders and the public learned about the cause of the recession some felt betrayed by what happened. They had a right to be upset because the 2007 recession was not part of a normal business cycle. It was self-inflicted.
Psychologically the “back-to-back” recessions changed the structure of the way companies do business. Companies had to find ways to be successful with fewer employees. As a result they became more efficient and hired fewer workers during the recovery.
It was difficult for some of the laid off workers to come to terms with the realization they wouldn’t have a job waiting for them when things got better. It was tough for older workers to be ungraciously kicked off the payrolls. At the same time, several graduating classes of college students, with hefty student loans, were passed over because there were no jobs for them.
Many of the workers who held onto their jobs felt both blessed and cursed. They were fortunate to have a job, yet at times they were taken advantage of (minimal or no pay increases, reduced benefits, longer hours, more responsibilities). Work became a necessary burden for many.
As a result of the “back-to-back” recessions consumers changed spending patterns, particularly in retail. Many people have been more discrete with their spending, they may not spent as much they once spent, and they tend to wait for items to be on sale before they purchase them. Adults with family members who had experienced the Great Depression may have benefitted from their experiences. As the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find you get what you need.”
Economists are partially to blame for the feeling the economy does not feel more robust. They continually refer back to the recession in their charts and their discussions. By continuing to refer to the recession, economists are continually reminding people how bad the economy was just a few years ago. It is difficult to feel the economy is robust when you are always looking over your shoulder.