The U.S. economy could be entering a recession again based on consumer expectations indexes and their history with past recessions over the last 40 years or so, even if wage growth and employment suggest differently, according to two academic economists.
Based on history, the recent decline in consumer expectations suggests the world’s No. 1 economy is already in a recession, wrote David Blanchflower, a labor economist and professor at Dartmouth College, in a new research paper released last week, Bloomberg reported.
Blanchflower co-wrote the research article with Alex Bryson, a professor of quantitative social science at University College London.
“Downward movements in consumer expectations in the last six months suggest the economy in the United States is entering recession now,” Blanchflower and Bryson wrote.
The last U.S. economic recession was officially declared in June 2020 as the U.S. was in its third month of lockdowns after the outbreak of the coronavirus. While many experts and economists generally define a recession as a GDP decline in back-to-back quarters, they defer to the private nonprofit research organization National Bureau of Economic Research to officially make the call, CNBC reported in June 2020.
“In deciding whether to identify a recession, the committee weighs the depth of the contraction, its duration and whether economic activity declined broadly across the economy,” the National Bureau of Economic Research said in a statement in June 2020. The organization concluded that the “unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production, and its broad reach across the entire economy, warrants the designation of this episode as a recession, even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier contractions.”
Black men, Black women and mothers of school-age children were among those hit hardest and the slowest to recover in last year’s recession, Washington Post reported.
Every economic slump or recession since the 1980s has come after 18 months of falling consumer expectations, with drops of at least 10 points on two indexes — the Conference Board and the University of Michigan, according to the authors.
The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey is a monthly report that reflects prevailing business conditions and likely developments for the months ahead. It details consumer attitude, buying intentions, vacation plans and consumer expectations for inflation, stock prices and interest rates. Data are available by age, income, region and top 8 states.
The Conference Board’s index dropped in September to the lowest since November 2020 — the third consecutive month of declines. However, the University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers reported that consumer sentiment edged up in late September.
Other reliable indicators include two consecutive months of declining employment rate and a one-month rise of at least 0.3 percentage points in unemployment, Fox Business reported.
“The economic situation in 2021 is exceptional…since unprecedented direct government intervention in the labor market through furlough-type arrangements has enabled employment rates to recover quickly from the huge downturn in 2020,” Blanchflower and Bryson wrote. “However, downward movements in consumer expectations in the last six months suggest the economy in the United States is entering recession now (fall of 2021).”
The economists cited data suggesting the Conference Board expectations peaked in March 2021 and then fell by 26 points through September 2021. The University of Michigan data appeared to peak in June 2021 and fell by 18 points by August, they found.
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The “clear downward movements in consumer expectations” over the past six months are evidence the U.S. is currently heading into a recession, the economists said. You can’t tell by looking at jobs reports. The unemployment rate is falling and the economy is adding jobs. That’s probably because the U.S. government has helped prop up up the labor market, Fox Business reported.
“It seems to us that there is every likelihood that the US is entered recession at the end of 2021,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, Wall Street banks still call for robust expansion. Goldman Sachs told clients on Sunday that it now expects the U.S. economy to grow 5.6 percent this year and 4 percent in 2022, although these rates are slower than previously anticipated.
However, the pandemic has put pressure on supply chains and congested ports. Food and gas prices are rising, the labor market has issues and fiscal and monetary policymakers may be pulling back stimulus soon, Bloomberg reported.
If it’s any consolation, “economists are pretty terrible at forecasting” recessions, Simon Kennedy wrote for Bloomberg.
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