Our View

Too much to ask: a Congress-proof recovery?

By From page A16 | May 19, 2013

The issue: Surveys show economy is picking up steam

The consensus has been that the economy will continue to recover slowly but steadily unless Congress does something stupid, always a possibility, to mess it up.

BUT SURVEYS of economists by The Wall Street Journal and USA Today indicate that the recovery is strong enough to withstand even Congress.

And the possibility of an unexpected blow coming from out of left field, say a major depression in China or the European Union, seems to be steadily receding.

USA Today concluded, “Political paralysis in Washington won’t stall an economic recovery that’s revving up across the rest of the country.”

The Wall Street Journal was slightly more restrained: “After four years of crises, foreign and domestic, that threatened to plunge the U.S. economy back into recession, the road ahead at last looks comparatively free of roadblocks.”

Both surveys see the economy picking up by the end of the year, slowed but not stunted by the sequester. USA Today’s forecasters predicted the recovery “will accelerate late this year even without a deal by Congress and the White House to lessen the impact of automatic federal budget cuts.”

ECONOMICALLY, the year started strong but growth slowed to a current rate of around 2 percent. However, the Journal’s panel expects the GDP to expand 2.4 percent for the year. USA Today sees two quarters of 2 percent growth but a strong pickup in the fourth quarter and approach 3 percent by early next year.

The year began with a healthy first-quarter average monthly job growth of 206,000 jobs but that will tail off to 165,000 in this quarter and 172,000 in the next but pick up in the fourth quarter and average 200,000 jobs monthly next year. The Journal was less optimistic, its economists foreseeing average monthly job growth averaging of just under 180,000 for the next 12 months.

At that rate, it will take until mid-2014 to restore the number of jobs the country had at the outset of the recession. But all good economic news comes with a downer: The Brookings Institution says that, adjusted for population growth, it will take nine more years to return to the prerecession level of employment.

NINE YEARS of self-restraint is asking a lot from Congress. Maybe too much.

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