Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's Bad, But 1982 Was Worse

The New York Times - You often hear that we are now living through the worst recession since the early 1980s, and the comparison is not wrong. But it’s ultimately unsatisfying, because it is a little too vague to be useful.

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.

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