Everybody agrees that the U.S. is still in a recession, but other than that there isn't a lot of agreement. The latest news reports state that we're possibly on the way out of the recession, and I'm not going to disagree, since for all I know we are on the way out. What I will write about, however, is how statistics and numbers are used in the recession debate. As Twain famously wrote, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." And while I believe in using statistics to shape one's thought, it's the way the statistics are used that needs to be looked at.
Statistics can typically be shaped to solidify one's viewpoint, or to destroy it if posed a different way. Take for example the recent news that job loss declined in July. Some are rejoicing the news that the economy lost only 247,000 jobs, down from a decline of 442,000 in June. Good news, right? Well, again, it depends on how you look at the number. Is losing less than 400,000+ jobs good? Yes, but let's look at it in a narrower scope. Let's say a store has 100 workers and loses 25 jobs in one month, 15 in another, and then only 8 most recently. You can look at the numbers and be pleased that the job loss has gone down to only one-third in 3 months, but the fact of the matter is that you now only have 52% of the work force that you previously had. Eventually the job loss has to decrease, otherwise the store would have no workers and would shut down. Admittedly, that's a very simplistic way of looking at the job loss figures, but in a grander scale it works the same way. The economy has to have a slowing of job losses, and eventually turn it around, otherwise the economy would shut down and we'd be without any jobs at all (and some really long lines for soup). So yes, the decline in job loss is good (it sure beats the alternative), but it's still nothing to rejoice about.
So when will the recession come to an end? Nobody really knows, and in all honesty, it probably won't be announced that it's over until months after the fact (just as there's a waiting period to discover when a recession officially begins). One thing you can be sure of, though, is that the various political parties will all take credit for the end to the recession in one way or another. Their proof? Lies, damned lies, and statistics.