By Adriana Reyneri
Is the United States slipping back into recession or not? I’d really like to know. The recovery has been great and all, but I need to decide whether my “Meatless Mondays” should expand to include Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I’ve already cut out Starbucks from my all-so frugal budget, so I guess the next step would be going without coffee altogether. (The price of beans shot up last week like my heart rate after a jolt of espresso.) No caffeine could mean no job, however, since I’m probably physically incapable of thinking without some java. And we all know what those unemployment numbers look like more than two years after the recession ended. I don’t want to be out there pounding the pavement alongside 25 million other job seekers.
Yeah, if I knew whether we were slipping back into recession I could start worrying about important things, like my home value falling another 10 percent from its 2006 high. Since the recession officially ended in June 2009, a drop in home prices has been the farthest thing from my mind. I’ve worried more about whether to buy gold – but I know an asset bubble when I see one. I’ve been around the block more than a few times and have learned what goes up, usually comes down. In my experience, though, it kinda crashes, failing to slide to a smooth stop like that rollercoaster we’ve been hearing about so much in the financial news lately.
Problem is, nobody seems to know whether the economy is moving forward or back. Not even the experts, whom you would expect – or at least hope – would know something about it. I mean the nation has a whole bureau dedicated to deciding when recessions begin and end. They even have a working definition. According to the recession experts at the National Bureau of Economic Research, “a recession is a period between a peak and a trough, and an expansion is a period between a trough and a peak.”
What makes life tricky for the folks at the bureau is the following, “In both recessions and expansions, brief reversals in economic activity may occur – a recession may include a short period of expansion, followed by a further decline; an expansion may include a short period of contraction followed by further growth.”
Some of the top guys, like our own Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, have gone out on limb and definitely said that our chances of a double-dip are increasing, and that our economy is more vulnerable to a “shock.” And, we all seem to admit that things are not going as well as they could. I guess that has to be enough for me. Mac ‘n Cheese anyone?