This may be a very different recession from those in the past, according to reports from around the country.
Past recessions often began when overly eager producers turned out more goods than the economy could absorb, leading to inventory buildups and then to slower production and layoffs in order to shrink those inventories.This one, says Albert Sindlinger, an economic researcher, began with the consumer's pocketbook rather than production inventories.
People all over the country are telling him, "My expenses are rising." That, he said, is the universal complaint. "People are saying their medical costs, insurance costs, their taxes are too much."
At the same time, he said, their assets probably are falling in value. Some housing prices have shrunk. Stock values, too. "And as their assets decline and costs rise, their incomes aren't adequate," he said.
Atop these problems is the loss of jobs. Government figures show 580,000 jobs have been lost in manufacturing since January 1989. Initial claims for jobless insurance rose to 454,000 in the week ended Oct. 20, the highest level since the last recession. While costs rise, ability to pay falls.
The voting results confirm the taxpayers' predicament and their outrage, said Sindlinger, who has been analyzing consumer attitudes for half a century, the latest 30 years of that time in a formal, scientific manner.
Based in Wallingford, Pa., the staff of Sindlinger & Co. has detailed talks with more than 800 heads of households every week, 52 weeks a year, asking them probing questions relating to their financial condition.
Those results are then processed at the company's computer facility and analyzed by the octogenarian himself, and then sent by high-speed mail or facsimile to corporate, governmental and academic clients.
Looking at last week's results, he commented that "the economy keeps getting worse." By his calculations, there are 38 states in recession, and the rest are borderline. The recession is already in its 10th month, he says.
The Commerce Department disagrees. Its latest quarterly report, for the third quarter of the year, showed economic activity growing at an unexpectedly strong 1.8 percent annual rate.
Sindlinger scoffs at the estimate, and so do many academic and business economists. Some, such as Sind-linger, believe the figures are manipulated; some believe government methodology is faulty; some say almost-certain revisions will lower the expansion rate.
Based on discussions with household heads, Sindlinger believes the latest tax increase enraged the American public. "Atop all their problems, it was the very thing they didn't need."