America and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad GDP data

The recent GDP figures paint a bleak picture. My spreadsheet does too:

There was a revision of past GDP performance and it was very bad. The graph above shows quarterly changes in Real GDP per capita, annualised. Of course the big hit was 2008 Q4 but notice that 2011 Q1 has gone negative. I don't think this is the beginning of an annual decline of Real GDP per Capita but it can certainly be seen to presage one later on.

A very sad thing to notice about the new release of these GDP figures is that Real GDP hasn't yet passed its previous peak yet.

Real GDP peaked in 2007 Q4 at $13.326 trillion, then bottomed out in 2009 Q2 at $12.6413 trillion and has grown since then to reach $13.2701 trillion in 2011 Q2. 15 quarters - nearly 4 years - in which real GDP remained below the peak. As far as my spreadsheet tells me, there is no other period in postwar US history where it has taken this long (and counting) for the economy to at least equal its previous peak. Both the 1974 and 1982 recessions took 9 quarters to reach this level.

On a side note, measuring per capita figures has been harder this year due to the work of the US Census. Monthly population figures have not been updated since December which has meant that 2011 per capita figures have had to rely upon mid monthly figures. Caveat Cognitor.

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