Time Cover Story: Deja Vu All Over Again, Part II
From the Time Magazine article titled "Why We're So Gloomy" (full article is behind paid firewall):
Well, why are Americans so gloomy, fearful and even panicked about the current economic slump? U.S. consumers seem suddenly disillusioned with the American Dream of rising prosperity. Hard times are forcing some people to turn their back on the American Dream.MP: Note that this article appeared in Time Magazine's January 13, 1992 issue, although it could have just as easily been written at any time during the last several years. The article was written almost a year after the July 1990-March 1991 recession had officially ended, and in the first year of a 10-year expansion that ended up being the longest and strongest economic expansion in the history of the country (from March 1991 to March 2001).
"Whining" hardly captures the extent of the gloom Americans feel as the current downturn. The slump is the longest, if not the deepest, since the Great Depression. Traumatized by layoffs that have cost million of jobs during the slump, U.S. consumers have fallen into their deepest funk in years.
While some economists have described the current slump as a near depression, that phrase overstates the case if it is taken as a comparison with the period 1929-33, when the U.S. economy contracted by nearly a third. The D word becomes more valid, especially with a small d, when it is used to compare the growth rate of the 1930s, which averaged 0.5% a year, with the expected sluggishness of the next decade, which some economists predict will see an average growth rate of 2%.
"I'm worried if my kids can earn a decent living and buy a house," says Tony Lentini, vice president of Mitchell Energy in Houston. "I wonder if this will be the first generation that didn't do better than their parents. There's a genuine feeling that the country has gotten way off track, and neither political party has any answers. Americans don't see any solutions."
The deeper tremors emanate from the kind of change that occurs only once every few decades. America is going through a historic transition from a heedless borrow-and-spend society to one that stresses savings and investment. When this recession is over, America will not simply go back to business as usual.
The underlying change in the way American consumers and business leaders think about saving and spending will make the recovery one of the slowest in history and the next decade one of lowered expectations. Many economists agree that the U.S. will face at least several years of very modest growth as consumers and companies work off the vast debt they assumed in the last decade.
"Never in my adult life have I heard more deep-seated feelings of concern," says Howard Allen, retired chairman of Southern California Edison. "Many, many business leaders share this lack of confidence and recognize that we are in real economic trouble."
Says University of Michigan economist Paul McCracken: "This is more than just a recession in the conventional sense. What has happened has put the fear of God into people."