When I heard the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) proclaim on Sept. 20 that the recession was over, my immediate, knee-jerk reaction was: “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
According to the NBER, a nonpartisan group of economists, the recession actually ended last year—June 2009.
Like many people, I want the recession to be over for both personal and professional reasons. But like many people who see everyday the human effects of the devastation of this so-called Great Recession I can’t help but utter disbelief in what economists are saying out loud.
Let’s not forget, five days before the NBER said the recession was over, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more people are struggling with poverty—hitting the highest level recorded since 1994. And children felt the hardest poverty hit, with one child in five affected, according to The New York Times.
And on Thursday at our biennial Programs Conference, I met a volunteer from one of our food pantries who told me how she has been out of a job after being laid off and still can’t find new employment despite her best efforts.
How can someone say the recession is over? And it’s been over for more than a year?
Let me be clear, we at Connecticut Food Bank and our partner food-assistance programs already had tough enough jobs before the recession. This economic downturn—which The New York Times called the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression—just made it worse. So we would be the first to celebrate the end of the recession, but there’s nothing to celebrate.
After a week’s worth of reflection and hearing ongoing news about the recession as well as the hurricane season, I’ve come to understand the role of the economists at NBER.
The NBER economists, as far as I can tell, track the recessions like the weather service tracks a hurricane that may threaten our shores. The economists pinpoint the actual start of the recession based on certain conditions as the weather service watches the wind and weather patterns that may be developing along the Atlantic that could lead to a hurricane.
The NBER then follows the economic conditions that define a recession and when those conditions are no longer met, the economists can say the recession is over. It’s just like the weather service saying, after the winds and rains have dissipated, the hurricane has passed and we’re in the clear.
But we know all too well that when a hurricane makes landfall, being in the clear isn’t the end of our problems. We have to deal with the devastation and destruction left by the storm. Just look at how the Gulf to this day is still struggling with the effects of Hurricane Katrina five years later.
In its simplest sense, that’s what we’re seeing with the Great Recession.
If the recession is truly over, then we’re now facing the human devastation and community destruction it has left in its path. And as Warren Buffett told CNBC last week, it will take us a long time to get out of this mess.
We know this because we have heard from other economists that households experiencing the long-term unemployment or underemployment associated with this recession—the people who are now coming to the food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens—will not fully recover for at least 10 years beyond the turn-around of the economy.
That’s the reality that Connecticut’s anti-hunger advocates are facing. Our work, therefore, continues.
Posted by Gladys Alcedo, Communications Coordinator of Connecticut Food Bank