Recession is dead; Long live the ... recovery?

Well, how did we do? Answer: It didn't just feel like a miserable couple of years. It was a miserable couple of years.

This was the longest recession since 1933. The nation's economy shrunk more than 4 percent. We lost more than 8 million jobs, including 347,800 in Georgia -- roughly one in every dozen.

Bad as that was, economists say it would have been far worse had there not been a pretty sizeable splash of federal spending, along with record-low interest rates. Yet they weren't enough to bring us a recovery that felt like one.

Instead, we've got housing still in the doldrums, and consumer spending still struggling. And don't even ask about the unemployment rate.

(It's back to 10 percent in Georgia after more than 70,000 people filed last month for jobless benefits. The state still has 85,000 fewer jobs than a year ago. Told you not to ask.)

Moreover, people with the most money to spend are inclined not to spend much, according to the Alpharetta-based American Affluence Research Center.

A survey of the nation's wealthiest 10 percent -- who represent one-third of the economy -- shows the affluent are a bit less confident than they were in the spring, said Ron Kurtz, the center's president. Twenty six percent say they will spend less at the holidays than a year ago.

So when the National Bureau of Economic Research says the recession ended, the experts are pretty clearly not breaking into "Happy Days Are Here Again."

In fact, the NBER statement looked like it had been crafted by lawyers: In choosing the recession's end point, "the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity."

OK, they're just making sure you get it: The end of recession doesn't mean the economy starts hummin'.

Recessions pre-1990 tended to end not with a whimper but with a bang of expansion. Since then, recoveries have begun with anemic growth that only gradually grew stronger.

In his Macroblog, Atlanta Fed economist David Altig recently called for "a bit of perspective, " noting that even the stronger recoveries included weak moments.

Altig cited the analysis of the Atlanta Fed's top executive. "President (Dennis) Lockhart's is a simple message: Don't ignore the short-term data, but be careful with getting too carried away with it as well."

Of course, there's hopeful analysis and there's life. As New Deal adviser Harry Hopkins was quoted as telling a skeptical senator, "People don't eat in the long run. They eat every day."

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