Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tracking the ongoing media mania over alleged parallels to The Great Depression

I am endeavoring to track the current media mania of attempting to draw parallels between the current economic situation and The Great Depression. I am doing this by using Google News to count the total number of "news" references to the phrase "The Great Depression" in the previous 24 hours. I have been doing this for just over eighteen months now.

  • 1/10/2009: 411 hits
  • 1/30/2009: 319 hits
  • 2/6/2009: 308 hits
  • 2/25/2009: 389 hits
  • 3/10/2009: 306 hits
  • 3/24/2009: 285 hits
  • 4/9/2009: 93 hits
  • 4/28/2009: 184 hits
  • 4/30/2009: 195 hits
  • 5/7/2009: 184 hits
  • 5/21/2009: 167 hits
  • 6/5/2009: 99 hits
  • 7/8/2009: 170 hits
  • 7/22/2009: 177 hits
  • 7/29/2009: 189 hits
  • 8/14/2009: 169 hits
  • 8/20/2009: 168 hits
  • 8/26/2009: 168 hits
  • 9/2/2009: 147 hits (one year ago)
  • 10/13/2009: 158 hits
  • 10/22/2009: 208 hits
  • 10/29/2009: 246 hits
  • 11/3/2009: 176 hits
  • 11/17/2009: 133 hits
  • 11/24/2009: 160 hits
  • 12/4/2009: 205 hits
  • 12/10/2009: 158 hits
  • 12/23/2009: 156 hits
  • 12/30/2009: 164 hits
  • 1/12/2010: 151 hits
  • 1/21/2010: 211 hits
  • 2/11/2010: 175 hits
  • 2/24/2010: 193 hits
  • 3/5/2010: 169 hits
  • 3/19/2010: 147 hits
  • 4/2/2010: 137 hits
  • 4/7/2010: 146 hits
  • 4/22/2010: 185 hits
  • 4/29/2010: 246 hits
  • 6/4/2010: 146 hits
  • 6/18/2010: 139 hits
  • 7/13/2010: 183 hits
  • 7/28/2010: 162 hits
  • 8/17/2010: 149 hits
  • 8/27/2010: 190 hits
  • 9/14/2010: 196 hits
  • 9/29/2010: 233 hits

Although the "mania" appears to have subsided somewhat, or at least has stabilized, the phrase "since the Great Depression" clearly resonates, at least among journalists.

Lately the frequency may have risen in parallel to the pundit and media drumbeat about a supposed double-dip recession. Some pundits are absolutely convinced that renewed recession is imminent, but for a lot of observers the jury is still out on that front.

One possibility for the stabilization is that the term resonates enough that the media is more than happy to cling to a term that almost assures that readers will pay attention. How long will it continue to "resonate"? Maybe until the overall economy and employment are reliably rising month after month for at least six months, with unemployment declining reliably as well, and a significant portion of the eight million people put out of work by the recession are back to work. Obviously we are not there yet. As long as there is a reportable story about the economic hardships of this recession, the term will continue to be used.

A fair amount of the usage at this stage is not comparison directly to The Great Depression, but simply using The Great Depression as a sort of bookend as in "since the Great Depression." Still, the media is clearly getting a lot of mileage out of the term even if they are not adding much in the way of useful information or enlightenment.

My current belief is that the media mania over "The Great Depression" will continue until the current recovery from the recession has advanced to the point where a monthly gain of employment is no longer a calming surprise and once again becomes taken for granted. We may need to see a decline of a million or more in unemployment and an even greater gain in employment before that happens. I do not expect that to occur in the near future. It could be a year or more, especially since initial unemployment claims remain firmly elevated above typical recessionary levels.

Personally, I believe that even though we are into a modest recovery overall for the economy, on the labor front we are in a mini-depression. Even though employment will begin to recover and resume growth soon, the bulk of the eight million people who lost jobs due to the recession will remain jobless for several years to come. It may take five to ten years before the bulk of those people are finally back in mainstream employment. We will have a split economy, with 85% of the people doing reasonably well and 15% struggling with some combination of unemployment and under-employment is their household, including adult children, and that is besides the typical 5% or so who are typically living in poverty or near poverty even in a booming economy.

-- Jack Krupansky


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