Economists’ take on status of recession dizzies legislators

SUNDAY, OCT. 4, 2009

OLYMPIA – Before they get too far into 2010, Washington legislators are likely to be invoking the ghost of Harry Truman.

Not because of any come-from-behind victory, or to call some reporter an SOB – two things for which subsequent generations of politicians have been eternally grateful to Truman – but because of his famous line about economists.

“Send me a one-armed economist,” Truman once said, one who doesn’t say “on the one hand this … on the other hand, that.”

And while you’re at it, state officials might say, send us one-armed economists who agree on whether the recession is over. Or at least, what “letter” the lines on the charts will make.

“The recession is most likely over,” Arun Raha, the state’s chief economist, told various legislative panels last week during Committee Week. But it won’t feel like it’s over until next year, he said.

“We’re still in a pretty deep recession,” said Greg Weeks, director of labor market and economic analysis for the Employment Security Department. The bad news is maybe just a little less bad.

To be fair, Raha is looking at gross domestic product and global economic numbers. Weeks is looking at unemployment numbers, which both agree are still climbing.

There is even a series of unemployment figures for legislators to consider (none of them good) that count everything from the standard rate of folks out of work and asking for unemployment payments to the “discouragement rate,” which adds in people who are working part time but are able to work full time, those who have exhausted their unemployment payments and those who have just given up on the prospect of finding a job. The discouragement rate is about 5 percent higher than the standard unemployment rate, Weeks said.

Economists spend lots of time looking at charts, where figures for sales or jobs or investment go up and down. Some legislators wanted to know if the chart would be a V – that is, go back up after going down – or a W, going down, up, down, up.

Of course, there’s one letter that no one wants to see on the chart: an L, where things go down – and stay there.

Catch the candidates

Tuesday: Spokane Area League of Women Voters forum for Spokane City Council candidates, fire bond, other city ballot issues, starts 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

Thursday: Greater Spokane Inc. forum on state Initiative 1033 featuring local elected officials, starts 7:15 a.m. at The Service Station, 9315 N. Nevada St. $20 for breakfast.

Friday: Greater Spokane Inc. debate on city Proposition 4 between supporters and opponents, at the Champions Room, 720 W. Mallon Ave., starts at 7:15 a.m. $25 members/$55 nonmembers for breakfast.

Oct. 13: Youth Issues Forum with candidates for Spokane City Council and Spokane School District, City Council Chambers, starts at 6 p.m.

Spin Control is a weekly political column by political reporter Jim Camden. It also appears online at with daily posts, videos and reader comments.


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