By Mark Memmott
Presidents usually don't argue with "good" news stories.
But check what President Barack Obama told his audience just a short while ago in Raleigh, N.C.: "I don't know whether you've seen the cover of the latest Newsweek magazine on the rack at the grocery store, but the cover says, 'The Recession is Over.' "
The president then continued:
"I bet you found that news a little startling. I know I did. Now, it's true that we've stopped the free-fall. The market is up and the financial system is no longer on the verge of collapse. We're losing jobs at nearly half the rate we were when I took office six months ago.
"So, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession. But that's little comfort if you're one of the folks who have lost their job, and haven't found another. Unemployment in North Carolina is over ten percent today. A lot of small businesses like Sara's are still struggling with falling revenues and rising costs. Health care premiums, for example, are rising twice as fast as wages, and much more for small businesses -- something I'll address in a minute.
"So, we know the tough times aren't over."
The Newsweek story is here. To be fair to the magazine, it does offer a qualifier -- "The Great Recession ... is most likely over." It talks of "an era of lower expectations." And it makes the point that:
When economists proclaim a recession over, they're celebrating a technicality: they mean economic output has stopped contracting. And while that is good news, you might wait a while before adding Judy Garland's rendition of Happy Days Are Here Again to your iPod. GDP growth alone can't feed a family, or pay a mortgage. Cursed with a high national debt load and blessed with a dynamic, growing workforce, the U.S. economy needs annual growth of at least 1.5% just to feel like we're standing still.
So in reality, Newsweek's reporting and Obama's opinion aren't that far apart.
But until the president is confident that the recovery is for real -- and that voters are feeling the benefits -- he probably won't be issuing his own "recession is over" declaration.