Strong US economy ahead of Obama speech

2013-02-12 14:01
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden, speak to supporters and donors at an inaugural reception for the 57th Presidential Inauguration at The National Building Museum in Washington. (Charles Dha

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden, speak to supporters and donors at an inaugural reception for the 57th Presidential Inauguration at The National Building Museum in Washington. (Charles Dha

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Washington - As President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, he presides over an economy much healthier than the one he inherited four years ago. Yet growth remains slow and unemployment high.

In early 2009, the US economy was in the midst of a full-blown panic sparked by the collapse of a housing bubble. Companies were slashing jobs. The unemployment rate was surging. Auto sales in January 2009 had reached a 26-year low.

"You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis," Obama said in his first State of the Union address in February 2009.

The numbers were frightening.

Employers cut 794 000 jobs in January 2009 and 4.5 million from November 2008 through April 2009.

Home prices plunged 19% in the 12 months that ended in January 2009. Eventually, they fell by a third overall before bottoming in late 2011.

Slow recovery


Perhaps the clearest barometer of the pain was soaring unemployment. The unemployment rate was 7.8% in January 2009, just below the current 7.9%. But only two months later, in March 2009, it was nearly a full point higher - 8.7%. By October it had peaked at 10%.

The recovery has been agonizingly slow. Consumers have been wary about spending after piling up debt in the mid-2000’s.

Local governments, squeezed by tight budgets, have cut 560 000 jobs in four years. And until recently, an anemic housing market discouraged the home construction that in past economic recoveries had powered growth.

Now, companies are hiring modestly but steadily. Employers added an average of 181 000 jobs a month in 2012 and 175 000 in 2011. Still, unemployment remains far higher than the 5% to 6% that economists regard as normal.

But home prices are finally rebounding as sales and housing starts have recovered. And Americans are buying cars again.

"During the last four years, the economy has stabilized," says economist Sung Won Sohn of California State University Channel Islands.

What has happened to the economy since 2009 likely would have happened whoever occupied the White House, Sohn says.

"We tend to give a lot of credit or blame (for the economy) to the incumbent president," he says. "The fact of the matter is, the US economy is like an aircraft carrier. You can turn it around but not on a dime."

- SAPA
Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  us economy
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