What Should We Call the Non-Recession Non-Recovery?

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Technically, we’re not in a recession. And yet, judging by the anger on Wall Street and polls revealing that more than three-quarters of Americans sense we’re in a recession, it sometimes seems like the economy is faring just as poorly, if not worse, than two or three years ago. If the economic situation we’re living in is not a recession, and it’s not exactly a recovery either—not a robust one, anyway—what is it?

Using a range of statistics, including the slightly better-than-expected job figures released last week, economists cited by BusinessWeek are now forecasting decent growth for the third quarter (2.5%, which would be the fastest in a year), and don’t see a double-dip recession in the near future.

Regular old Americans, however, view the situation differently. In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, a whopping 77% of those surveyed sense we are in a recession right now. Presumably, the people surveyed didn’t reach their conclusions after examining GDP numbers and other data, but by considering what they do know about the state of the economy—that their home values remain in the dumps, for example, and that they or their neighbors have been out of work for months, even years.

(MORE: Wall Street Protests Get Specific: Could ‘Bank Transfer Day’ Pit Americans Against Their Big Bank?)

It’s reasonable to assume we’re in a recession because the typical American has actually gotten poorer since the recession officially ended. The New York Times reports that while inflation-adjusted median household income in the U.S. fell 3.2% during the recession (December 2007 to June 2009), it has dropped 6.7% from June 2009 to June 2011, to slightly under $50K.

So if we’re not in a recession, how does one categorize the economic situation we’ve been in since June 2009? If it’s not a recession, what do you call it?

First, though, what’s the point of a label? Does it matter at all what we call the ongoing non-recession/non-recovery? Why bother coining a phrase at all? In a Minneapolis Star-Tribune story, Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff describes why it’s so important to come up with a proper name:

“Why argue about semantics? Well, imagine you have pneumonia, but you think it is only a bad cold. You could easily fail to take the right medicine, and you would certainly expect your life to return to normal much faster than is realistic.”

In the Times story, President Obama is quoted calling the economic situation “an emergency.” Well, yes. But that’s too vague. The generic “slump” and “downturn” are often used. Surely we could do better.

Here’s a suggestion from the Star-Tribune story:

“I was talking … to the owner of a business — a small business — and he called it a frustrating economy,” said William W. Beach, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis.

A little better. But “frustrating economy” doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

(MORE: Jobs Market Rebounds, But the Non-Recovery Recovery Continues)

CNN Money’s Paul R. La Monica goes with the “barbecue recovery”:

I’ve been referring to the tepid state of the economy as the barbecue recovery for more than a year now. It’s going to be low and slow. (Should have trademarked it!)

Ha! I like it. But a barbecue is casual and fun. Unless you’re the host, you never want it to end. The metaphor works on one level, but it doesn’t have any sense of urgency. For most Americans, the past few years hasn’t been the economic equivalent of a sunny afternoon filled with beer, pulled pork and horseshoes.

Here’s one last suggestion, a colloquial and quite-apt phrase I’m favoring for the time being, quoted in the BW piece:

“The U.S. economy doesn’t look like it’s double-dipping at all,” said Allen Sinai, president of Decision Economics Inc. in New York. “But it is a crummy recovery.”

(PHOTOS: Labor Unions March With ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protesters)

What do you call the ongoing post-recession non-recovery we’re living in? If you had to describe it with a name or phrase, what would it be?

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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