The U.S. Economy Is on Track to Finish a Decade Without Significant Growth
It would take a miracle for growth to reach 3 percent this year, marking a decade without it
The U.S. economy keeps chugging ahead, more like a tortoise than a hare. At this rate, it won't be anywhere near where economists expect it to be at the end of the year.
Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.3 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, according to Commerce Department figures published Thursday. While that was an improvement over the 0.6 percent pace in the first three months of the year, it was less than economists had forecast.
The new figures all but assure GDP for the year yet again will fail to reach the 3-percent mark, the pace economists generally say is needed in order for the average American to really feel it.
``This has been a uniquely slow period of growth that's delivered very little for low- and middle-income households,'' said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington and former chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden. ``We need to grow faster and more equitably.''
The economy would have to grow at a 4.75-percent rate during the final two quarters of 2015 to reach 3 percent for the year. A recent Bloomberg survey of 70 economists found that the median forecast for the remainder of the year was for GDP of 3 percent.
The last time America expanded at 3 percent-plus for the year was 2005, according to Commerce data. That means the nation is on track to miss such growth for an entire decade, a first in the post-World War II era. Why?
The recession was really bad
The most obvious explanation is that the nation suffered a financial crisis and deep recession driven by a bubble in housing that collapsed. It's simply taking a long time to recover.
Housing numbers illustrate just how far from normal the U.S. still is. New home sales, for example, increased to a record 1.28 million in 2005. Then they dropped off a cliff for the next six years. Although they've started climbing again — and the pace of housing improvement is much healthier this time around — they're at only about a third of 2005's level.
The economy is less efficient
Another explanation is that whatever's restraining growth was operating in advance of the recession, and its effects were masked by, among other things, the housing bubble.
That's what the substantial drop in the growth of productivity, or output per hour of work, suggests. Labor Department figures show that productivity growth peaked in 2002, well before the economy slowed and contracted. Although productivity made a comeback in the midst of the recession, most economists agree that was the result of big layoffs that made companies look a lot more efficient, not any real improvement.
The nation is losing its entrepreneurial drive
Some analysts argue that the nation is losing its entrepreneurial drive, on which they say growth depends. They point to Census data that show that among U.S. firms, the share that are young -- less than a year old and with at least one employee -- has fallen from 11 percent in the early 1990s to 10 percent early in the last decade to 8 percent early in this decade.
Meanwhile, the fraction of firms that are 16-years-old or more has gone from 23 percent to 29 percent to 35 percent.