WASHINGTON -- The first quarter's disappointing economic growth rate is further proof that President Obama's big-spending stimulus bill isn't delivering the strong recovery we've experienced coming out of previous recessions.
The White House tried to make the modest 3.2 percent growth rate -- down sharply from 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter -- sound as if it were the greatest thing since sliced bread. But the gross domestic product (GDP) number -- which totals all the goods and services our economy produces -- was riddled with apparent weaknesses.
The end-of-inventory drawdowns pumped up the GDP as businesses began replenishing depleted stocks. Half of the growth came from inventory increases. New-home sales were sparked by the first-time homebuyers' tax credit that has ended. Auto sales perked up, but they're winding down now, too.
Fixed investments in building and capital goods were tepid, and weekly jobless claims were still above 450,000, pointing to many months of continued high unemployment.
White House economist Larry Summers warned last week that the unemployment rate remains a major weakness even if the economy continues to grow. Not exactly a bullish proclamation from Obama's chief economic adviser, in the midst of an election year, no less.
The University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index, which measures the mood of consumers whose spending comprises 70 percent of the economy, fell from 73.6 in March to 72.2 in April -- well below the 90 points it hit before the recession.
In short, this is an economy that the Wall Street Journal said is "still not firing on all cylinders."
The president boasted that the 3.2 percent GDP rate was "an important milepost on the road to recovery," but so far it pales when compared to previous recoveries from similarly severe recessions.
Take, for example, the robust recovery that followed the 1982-1983 recession. There are key differences between then and now, but there are also similarities, including steep declines in production, double-digit unemployment and numerous bankruptcies.
But when the two-year recession ended in November 1982, the economy came roaring back like an Atlas rocket, fueled by Ronald Reagan's 25 percent tax rate cuts and deregulation that cut business costs, unlocking new capital investment and spurring new-business formation and job growth.
The stunning quarterly GDP growth rates in 1983: 5.1 percent, 9.3 percent, 8.1 percent and 8.5 percent. Now that's a recovery.
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