Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Unemployment's "Only" at XX%

In response to the current crisis, conversations drawing parallels to the Great Depression (or, as it may soon be known, World Depression I) usually end with this one: "How bad can things be? Unemployment's not 24 percent like it was then."

But it took some time for unemployment to reach those levels.

Indeed, at the end of 1930, more than a year after the 'start' of the Great Depression -- commonly believed to be October, 1929 -- unemployment stood at just 8.7%. Today, the rate stands at 7.6%.

It was not until 1932, two-and-one-half years after the "Crash", and after a second banking panic (in the spring of 1931) that the unemployment rate reached 23.6%, peaking at just over 24% in 1933.

Which is not to say that we are currently headed for 24% unemployment, or even anything like it. The aggressive steps that the Administration is taking seem likely to reverse the downward drift.

But it's way to early to say that we know where the bottom is for the unemployment rate in this down-cycle.

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