Recovery? What Recovery?

There’s really not much good to say about this morning’s gross domestic product numbers. 
At least something's growing somewhere. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg

There's really not much good to say about this morning's first-quarter gross domestic product numbers. An annualized growth rate of 0.1 percent is not so much a growth rate as a rounding error.

There are, of course, the standard caveats: These are preliminary numbers, which are notoriously volatile; they may well get revised upward in the coming months. And the lousy winter weather probably depressed retail sales, housing starts and other things that generally contribute to economic growth.

But these caveats aren't really all that cheering. The figures seem quite likely to be revised upward, but quite unlikely to be revised upward to, say, 3 percent annual growth -- a figure that we used to view as solid but not spectacular, rather than hopelessly aspirational.

Relatedly, it's undoubtedly true that the weather depressed economic output. But it didn't depress economic output enough to explain these lackluster figures. If economic growth were actually healthy, it shouldn't be possible to see numbers this low.

No, despite the caveats, the fact remains that we seem to be stuck. Six years after the financial crisis, we still haven't entered anything that could really be called a "recovery." A recovery would mean some sort of catch-up growth that reabsorbed stranded workers and capital. Instead, we're barely limping forward, and the most cheerful thing we can say about any of it is that at least we're no longer falling back.

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