Thursday, November 17, 2016

Once again Rush Limbaugh is full of it about the late, great recession

Here's Rush on November 15th:

In the first place, this so-called recession, the worst since the Great Depression 2008, I don't care, folks, it wasn't! ... Democrats have lived off of this economic collapse narrative for eight years now, and it's horse hockey. The truth of it is that there hasn't been a recovery from it. ... Hell, the recession that Reagan inherited in 1980 dwarfs this one. I mean the thing that Reagan inherited when he became president in 1980, this doesn't even get close to touching it, how bad it was. ... This has really been a sore spot for me for all these eight years, is how supposedly bad that was and how Obama single-handedly rescued us from it, and it was all the Republicans' doing, and it all happened because of the Iraq war. ... We haven't replaced these jobs that were lost. They keep talking about the employment rate being way down, record lows, what a crock.

Rush doesn't remember the 1980s very well, when he was in his 30s. Without a college education and a long enough personal history to compare things to while experiencing the hard knocks of life trying to get his radio career going, those years understandably seemed worse to him than they really were. Honest people everywhere recognize it was that way for them, too. Unfortunately Rush still doesn't seem to be able to measure the 1980s properly let alone put them in their proper perspective economically.

Take first time claims for unemployment. Reagan's weekly average 1981-1988 was 406,000. Obama's  weekly average 2009-2016 (still unfinished) is 373,000, 8% less severe overall. But the averages around each recession peak are much closer in severity. First time claims 1981-1983 averaged 491,000 weekly, while claims 2009-2011 averaged 477,000 weekly, the latter only 2.85% less severe overall. Peak claims in 1982 averaged 30.1 million, in 2009 only 2% lower at 29.46 million.

While the Obama jobs recession was not quite as severe in terms of the persistence of high first time claims for unemployment, full-time jobs took forever to recover under Obama. Under Reagan they had bounced back almost immediately. In 1981 the pre-recession peak in full-time averaged 83.243 million. By 1984 that level had been recovered with 86.544 million full-time jobs on average. Three years, that's it. In 2007, by contrast, the pre-recession peak in full-time averaged 121.091 million, but it took EIGHT YEARS to recover that level. Full-time finally averaged 121.492 million in 2015. That's why it hasn't felt like things are looking up until this year, in 2016.

If you were an adult in the 1980s, you probably remember the Savings and Loan crisis from 1986-1995, but you probably don't think of the Reagan era as a period of widespread bank failures comparable with what we recently experienced in the Great Recession, and you would be right. Losses from such failures as estimated by the FDIC for the period 1981-1988 total $8.9 billion. But for the period 2009-2016 estimated losses from bank failures soared to $57.3 billion, 544% higher. Even adjusted for inflation the recent losses were well in excess of 200% higher than in the 1980s. 

Or take housing. The Case-Shiller Home Price Index fell at most about 14% from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s through the Reagan recessions. I remember my dad was pretty unhappy about it because he retired in 1980 and was sitting in a house he hoped to sell for more money one day, but the value kept declining. But that was nothing compared to what happened between 2006 and 2012 when the index tanked over 36%. The foreclosure rate averaged just 0.5% in 1980-81, but soared to 3.8% in 2008-09, an increase of over 600% in the rate. Many millions of people lost homes in the Great Recession, but they are nameless and faceless to Rush Limbaugh because to him things were much worse in the 1980s. But not in reality. I saw homes in foreclosure in my own middle class neighborhood in 2007 that I never saw back in 1980 in my dad's hometown.

Perhaps the best way to visualize how much worse the most recent recession was compared with the early 1980s is to examine quarterly current dollar GDP. You had one tiny blip in quarterly current dollar GDP between December 1981 and March 1982 when it declined all of $0.01 trillion, 0.3% that's it. The truth is GDP recovered the next quarter ending June 1982 and never looked back.

Fast forward to 2007-09. There were four quarterly declines: A decline of $0.02 trillion between 12/31/07 and 3/31/08; a decline of $0.29 trillion from 9/30/08 to 12/31/08; a decline of $0.17 trillion from 12/31/08 to 3/31/09; and a decline of $0.04 trillion from 3/31/09 to 6/30/09. The previous peak level in quarterly current dollar GDP wasn't recovered until a year later, in June 2010. It took almost two years, not one quarter as in 1982. All told GDP fell from peak to trough by $0.5 trillion or 3.37%. 

The recession of 1982 was child's play compared with 2007-2009. Rush just can't see it because he was already rich during the Great Recession.

Your guiding light in this time of tumult he is not.   

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