The economy these days can be a lot like the weather – subject to abrupt change. At least, the perceptions of it can be.
Despite the fact that the stock market has regained its lofty position, making up for the summer's losses, some economists are warning that the economy – which has never fully recovered from the Great Recession – is giving us something to worry about.
Belief that the Federal Reserve was preparing to “taper” its aggressive campaign to hold down interest rates was behind the summer's stock market swoon. By September, however, the markets were convinced that wasn't going to happen anytime soon because the economy was still too weak.
Wall Street traders took that as good news. Economists, not so much.
"Interest rates have been held artificially low for years by the Fed, pushing the stock market artificially high,” said Casey Bond, managing editor at GoBankingRates.com. “That's a dangerous combination, especially considering the economy is still sluggishly recovering according to common indicators."
Another factoid gives Bond pause. According to the White House, only 45% of the wealth lost during the recession has thus far been recovered.
“If you really consider the numbers, the most terrifying thing about this Halloween might be the state of our economy – especially for those nearing retirement age," she said.
For soon-to-be retirees, low interest rates on their savings and a worsening job market spells double-trouble. Not only do savings not grow but plans to stay in their careers longer could be derailed if they become unemployed.
Sense of pessimism
The early October government shutdown, followed by some Congressional brinkmanship over raising the government debt limit, may have colored consumers attitudes about the economic future, heading into the critical holiday shopping season.
A new Harris Interactive poll notes a growing sense of economic pessimism among consumers in the aftermath of the government shutdown. In September, almost half of U.S. adults surveyed said, in the coming year, that they expect the economy to stay the same, while less than one-quarter – 22% -- expected it to improve and one-third expected it to get worse. This month, while 22% still believe the economy will improve in the upcoming year, now four in ten Americans believe the economy will get worse and 37% say it will stay the same.
Among the pessimists on the U.S. economy is Robert Shiller, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. Interviewed this week on the Daily Ticker webcast, Shiller said the world economy – not just the U.S. economy – is softening, raising the chances for another recession.
“It's been six years since the last recession started,” Shiller said. “They tend to come along with some regularity.”
And if another recession comes along, Shiller says, there is little confidence that Congress will be able to reach any kind of agreement on how to respond.
But Shiller isn't putting money on a recession occurring next year, since he says we haven't fully gotten out of the last one.
“I don't think we have any clear sense of timing,” Shiller said.
And it is true consumers haven't really gotten back on their feet since the last recession. A recent U.S. Census Bureau report shows median household income last year was actually a few dollars less than it was in 2011.