By one of the two main ways of determining a recession, we were NOT in a recession in the Jan-March quarter:
The bruised economy limped through the first quarter, growing at just a 0.6 percent pace as housing and credit problems forced people and businesses alike to hunker down. The country's economic growth during January through March was the same as in the final three months of last year, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The statistic did not meet what economists consider the definition of a recession, which is a contraction of the economy. This means that although the economy is stuck in a rut, it is still managing to grow, even if slightly.
Many analysts were predicting that the gross domestic product (GDP) would weaken a bit more — to a pace of just 0.5 percent — in the first quarter. Earlier this year, some thought the economy would actually lurch into reverse during the opening quarter. Now, they say they believe that will likely happen during the current April-to-June period. "The economy is weak but not collapsing," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Bank of America's Investment Strategies Group. "A recession can't be ruled out, although the stars are not lined up at this point to definitively say one way or the other."
Gross domestic product measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is the best measure of the country's economic health. Voters are keenly worried about the country's economic problems and so are politicians — in Congress, in the White House and on the campaign trail.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said the administration was disappointed in the figures. "This is nothing to crow about," she said. "It is very slow growth, but it is growth nonetheless."
The housing situation turned more bleak in the first quarter, as record-high foreclosures dumped more unsold homes on the market, adding to builders' headaches. Builders slashed spending on housing projects by a whopping 26.7 percent, on an annualized basis, the most in 27 years. That was the biggest drag on the economy. Consumers — whose spending is vital to the country's economic health — turned much more cautious, also restraining overall economic growth in the first quarter. Their spending rose at just a 1 percent pace. That was down from a 2.3 percent growth rate and was the slowest since the second quarter of 2001, when the United States was suffering through its last recession. Shoppers did cut spending on such things as cars, furniture, household appliances, food and clothes.