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Low US unemployment does not negate the conclusion that the US economy is now in recession

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis published the latest US National Accounts data last week (July 28, 2022) – Gross Domestic Product, Second Quarter 2022 (Advance Estimate) – which showed that the US economy is now in technical recession – two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. After recording a contraction of 1.6 per cent in the March quarter in real GDP, the advance estimates for the June quarter show a further contraction of 0.9 per cent. Many commentators are, however, denying the recession narrative because they are pointing to the low unemployment rate (of 3.6 per cent). It is true, that the GDP figures are often revised and when the final, second-quarter estimates are available, they might record positive growth. But there is a puzzle emerging. We have long held the view (based on Okun’s Law – see below), that when GDP growth declines, the unemployment rate rises. This is a long-held stylised fact that has until Covid stood the test of time. But Covid has changed things and at present the US (and other nations) are experiencing a major slowdown in the growth of their working age population as a result of quite alarming rises in long-term disability as a result of the enduring impacts of Covid infections (and repeated infections). That has meant that unemployment rates are lower than they otherwise would have been as a result of worker shortages. On the one hand that is good for the employed. But, on the other hand, it is disastrous for workers who are now disabled. So the meagre fact that unemployment is low does not negate the conclusion that the US economy is now in recession, which has been deliberately created first by a massive fiscal contraction, and then, by the irresponsible conduct of the Federal Reserve Bank.

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