The Little Recovery That Could…Well, Maybe

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Remember the recovery? It began officially way back in the middle of 2009, 18 months  after the financial system—and then everything else in the American economy—fell apart. Given that nobody has seen much of a raise since then, and unemployment is still above 8%, you’d be forgiven for not noticing that there’s been a rebound—until, maybe, now.

As Rana Foroohar and Bill Saporito note in this week’s TIME magazine cover story, signs of economic expansion have been everywhere in the past few weeks. Factory manager’s purchasing orders, one of the most closely watched economic indicators, reached a bullish 6-month high in January. Weekly out of work claims have fallen to four year lows, the stock markets (led by, of all things, banks) are rising, business and consumer confidence figures are ticking up. And even housing permits hit a 3 year high.  “Whisper it,” wrote Goldman Sachs’ chief economist Jim O’Neill, who’s been bullish on America for some time now, in a recent research note. “The U.S. economy is returning to normality.”

But, Foroohar and Saporito add, the definition of a “normal” recovery appears to have changed a lot over the last two decades. Technically, we’re in an expansion, since economic output has eclipsed the 2007 peak. But practically speaking, we are in a neverland of a recovery. Income growth is non-existent, we still have a $3.7 trillion housing hole to dig ourselves out of, and we’re still several million jobs short of full employment. It’s a recovery alright — but not as we’ve ever known it.

What’s up with this 97-pound recovery? And, weak or not, will it stick around until the elections are over? For more insights into those questions, and the state of the American and global economy, look for the full report in this week’s issue of TIME magazine.