So how does this downturn really compare? Gross domestic product slipped in the fourth quarter of 2007 and rose in the first two quarters of this year. Third-quarter GDP, out Thursday, October 30, is expected to be dismal. Still, we haven't (yet) endured the consecutive quarters of decline seen in major downturns of the past.
Total employment has dropped every month this year, but the national unemployment rate (6.1 percent) remains far below the levels of earlier major recessions. Inflation is below the double-digit rates seen in the "stagflation" of the '70s and early '80s. (Click on the image above to download an Acrobat document with detailed statistics about financial conditions since the Depression.)
But consumer confidence and the stock market have tumbled. Auto sales are at their lowest point since 1992, and total housing starts this year are expected to be at their lowest level since 1945. The number of mass layoff events is at the highest level since September 11, 2001 (click here to view more information about recent mass layoff events).
This downturn hasn't officially been ruled a recession, but that seems to be only a technicality.
Of the nine recessions since 1950, just two occurred in presidential election years (1960, 1980). The incumbent party lost both times.
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