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Thumbs down: Five years later, many are still feeling recession

Sep. 17, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

When Lehman Brothers, the nation's fourth-largest investment bank, filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008, few of us understood what was ahead or how long the road back would be.

The collapse has come to symbolize the sharp downturn of the Great Recession, although economic researchers date the beginning to December 2007 and the end to June 2009. But five years after Lehman Brothers, the nation's economy is still working on recovery.

Attitudes about the economy have improved, and this week President Barack Obama stressed the progress that has been made, pointing out that the unemployment rate has fallen, financial institutions "are safe" and health-care costs are rising more slowly than in the past.

But the progress on the job front has been uneven at best, with higher employment among upper-income levels and lower-income families facing unemployment rates as high as 20 percent. Polls taken last week also show across-the-board concern about jobs and the future. The percentage of workers who say they are worried about layoffs or setbacks at work is nearly double the level in weeks prior to Lehman.

Equally telling is what people say they are spending these days.

Gallup does a regular tracking survey and asks Americans how much they spent the prior day, leaving out routine monthly bills and major purchases such as a car or home to get a sense of discretionary spending.

Consumers' self-reported spending for the first week of September 2008 averaged $113 per day, according to the poll. That dropped to $60 a year after Lehman, and though it has gradually improved, this year it remains short of 2008 levels -- standing at $86 per day last week. August's average was $95, the highest monthly average since 2008, so we can hope that is a good sign for the fall.

Five years later, the slow recovery continues, but for many Americans, it still has a long way to go.

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