Six snapshots of Georgia’s economy

We’re standing now where a booming economy ought to be.

Five years after most previous recessions, an economic snapshot would show businesses rebounding, construction crews hopping and hiring hot. Yet the expansion since the Great Recession ended has been so sluggish that most Americans apparently think it’s still going.

“This is just uncertainly paced, modestly paced, incremental growth,” said Tim Mescon, an economist and president of Columbus State University.

With so much at stake – and with some help from Atlanta-based Equifax – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will look each quarter at how the region’s economy is doing through some key indicators.

Nationally, the economic trajectory is modest but positive: Expansion is running at a 2 percent annual pace — despite last week’s revision to 2.9 percent negative growth for the first quarter — and generating 200,000 new jobs per month. The jobless rate has slipped in the past year from 7.5 to a still troubling 6.3 percent. Atlanta’s rate spent most of the Great Recession higher than the national average, but the gap has narrowed.

Though the gains are slow, they look radically better than what came before. In 2006 and 2007, the housing bubble burst and the financial toxins began backing up in the economy. In late 2008 – after the collapse of Lehman Bros. – the financial markets froze. By year’s end, the economy was shedding more than a half-million jobs per month.

More than 6 percent of all the jobs in America evaporated. An estimated 5 million people lost their homes. Unemployment rates spiked to 10 percent and would have been in the teens if they included millions who gave up looking for work.

If anything, things were even worse in metro Atlanta, where the housing bubble had been among the nation’s biggest. The region’s jobless rate was in double digits for most of 28 consecutive months.

So where’s that post-recession boom? Economists say it takes longer to come back from a financial crisis than from other kinds of recessions.

After several years of job growth – and a swelling population – the metro Atlanta economy still has 70,000 fewer jobs than it did in late 2007 and nearly 29,000 fewer people even in the work force.

For metro Atlantans, there remain some urgent questions: Is the job market improving? Is the load on consumers any lighter? Is the housing market growing more healthy?

The charts in today’s report will give you a quick look at where we were, and where we are.

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