Jobless claims are down, unemployment has dropped below 9%, and consumer confidence is rising. Even housing starts—housing starts!—are up. You knew all along there would be a recovery, didn't you?
Well, that's one way of looking at it.
Paint by another set of economic numbers, however, and you get a quite different picture, one in which jobs are still hard to get, housing prices are still falling (except in Detroit!), and a little place called Greece still has a few problems making its debt payments. Here's my own set of favorite underappreciated economic statistics.
U6 counts not only people without work seeking full-time employment, but also "marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons." "Marginally attached workers" includes those who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still want to work--in other words, people who are unemployed except by the government's strict definition.
Consumer debt counts automobile loans and all other loans not included in revolving credit, such as loans for mobile homes, education, boats, trailers, or vacations. These loans may be secured or unsecured, but they are larger now than they were after a year of supposed "deleveraging" by American households.
Home prices fell more slowly this year than they fell in 2010, but they still fell. Nationally, home prices are back to their first quarter of 2003 levels. Astounding fact: Detroit has now recorded three consecutive months of appreciation.
Shadow inventory is the number of distressed properties not currently listed on multiple listing services that are seriously delinquent (90 days or more), in foreclosure and real estate owned by lenders. In other words, they are the homes soon to be listed for sale if real estate rallies and could kill the rally if they do.
If the housing recovery is going to last, people are going to need mortgages, aren't they?
Annual increase in cost of food:
All civilian workers pay rate, Sept. 2010 – Sept. 2011: + 2.0 percent
In other words, payrolls aren't keeping up with the rising cost of food, or much else.
Amount of cash and other liquid assets held by nonfinancial companies, Sept. 2011: $2.1 trillion
Consumers may be more confident, but businesses aren't. They're still hoarding cash.
Because these are the holidays and you shouldn't be totally depressed, here is one bright spot in all these economic stats. At least you don't live in Greece!