The current “recovery” is the worst, by almost every measure, since the First Great Depression—but it’s the best in one sense: corporate profits.
Actually, according to Catherine Rampell, there are economic recoveries (especially the short-lived recovery beginning in July 1980) that, at least on one or another measure, are worse than the present one. But the current recovery is worse than the “typical” postwar economic recovery on almost every measure: GDP growth, consumer spending, private residential investment, private nonresidential investment, equipment and software, exports, imports, government spending, and payrolls.
The only major metric I looked at wherein today’s recovery outperformed the average expansion of the previous 60 years was corporate profits.
In the average postwar recovery, corporate profits rose 38 percent from trough to peak. So far into this recovery, they have risen 45 percent.
That is not the largest increase of any postwar expansion, as the recoveries that lasted from November 1982 to July 1990 and from November 2001 through December 2007 both saw corporate profits increase by more than 60 percent. That record for the current recovery is still quite impressive, though, especially given how poor the job market still is.
In fact, the total level of corporate profits reached an all-time high, even after adjusting for inflation, in the last quarter of 2011, despite the fact that unemployment averaged 8.7 percent that quarter.
And that’s the main reason we’re still in the Second Great Depression: it is the worst of times (for most people, on most measures), it is the best of times (for corporate profits).