The Puget Sound region enjoys a diverse economy, high wages, much talent and connections with a better-performing Asia.
If low expectations are the key to happiness, why do we feel so bad? Seattle and the nation entered 2010 assuming a slow recovery, and that’s what many statistics show.
Yet a comeback is daunting: The economy was recovering from the worst collapse since the Great Depression and a sudden loss of jobs unlike any post-World War II downturn. Now even this fragile expansion is in question.
With the sharp deceleration of growth in the second quarter, this cycle continues to badly lag every other postwar recovery.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys Economy.com, says, a “temporary loss of momentum is not atypical for a recovery.” He adds, “But nothing else must go wrong.”
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Even without that caveat, his forecast sees a one-in-four chance of a double-dip recession. And GDP growth for 2010 is expected to be 2.8 percent, down from the 3.1 percent forecast earlier this year.
Rock-star economist Nouriel Roubini contends the months ahead will feel like a recession even if we avoid a double-dip.
I hold to the position that Seattle and much of Washington will continue to outperform the nation.
In a frozen or sideways national economy, places are forced back on the strengths and weaknesses they brought to the dance. The Puget Sound region enjoys a diverse economy, high wages, much talent and connections with a better-performing Asia.
That may not be much comfort for many. More than 306,000 Washingtonians are unemployed, even if the state jobless rate fell to 8.9 percent in July compared with the nation’s 9.5 percent.
More are in temp jobs, unable to find full-time work. Thousands of house owners are underwater in their mortgages. Foreclosures continue as mortgages reset.
And reasons for jitters continue. For example, personal income in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area fell 3.2 percent in 2009, more than the national average and a big comedown from the 1.5 percent gain against the headwinds of 2008.
Community banks also remain fragile and many small businesses can’t get loans.
State and local government revenue shortfalls continue to be a drag on recovery, and not just from elimination of jobs and programs. Slowdowns in building infrastructure, such as transportation, and cuts to university and education funding will make the state less competitive.
A true double-dip — with or without deflation — would upend even my “optimist who worries” scenario. Then Seattle would again face the sustained stresses that eventually pulled us into the recession that began nationally in 2007.
The big markers aren’t hard to imagine: fresh layoffs at Boeing, Microsoft and other major companies; capital drying up for startups and expansions; retail clobbered by a consumer pullback; the ports suffering a traffic falloff; and even the tepid improvement in private-sector hiring (21,100 statewide since January) dropping into reverse.
Other vulnerabilities could crack apart, especially the troubled commercial real-estate sector. Further declines in house prices, combined with new job losses or flat wages and 401(k) losses, would add even more pain to most Washingtonians.
But even if our so-called recovery maintains its heading, most Americans aren’t going to feel as if this is the kind of expansion they knew from the past. And it won’t be. It can’t be.
The nation is stuck under a huge overhang of debt and bets-gone-wrong that’s virtually unprecedented. This is what happens when much of the productive economy is replaced by a huge financial sector and federal government ginning up credit and asset bubbles.
All this leverage, much of it in airy derivatives, is a claim on future wealth and productivity. Meanwhile, the big banks and shadow banking system continue to gamble, continue to risk another meltdown.
In addition, global competition is much more intense, especially from China and India. It doesn’t help that major corporations based nominally in America keep moving production and even research jobs offshore. Entire industries have been lost.
Meanwhile, the United States seems to have no realistic exit strategy from military adventures that have cost, conservatively, $1 trillion.
Even on its own, the developing world is advancing quickly. With that is coming intense competition for limited resources — and for talent America once took for granted. This would be destabilizing enough without adding in the consequences of climate change.
Thus, the Great Disruption grinds on. It’s far from over. It’s no new normal, because fresh shocks are coming.
The old bubble boom isn’t coming back.
You may reach Jon Talton at firstname.lastname@example.org