There's no point kidding ourselves. At every hand, the economic news is grim.
The job picture, for instance, is terrible. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, at 9.2 percent. A broader government measure, one that takes account of underemployment and jobless workers who've given up searching, stands at a horrendous 16.2 percent. Consumer confidence, by one measure, is at its lowest level since March 2009.
The air, meanwhile, continues to be squeezed out of asset prices. Stocks lately have been trending downward, and while home prices have showed signs of stabilizing, one in four homeowners with a mortgage owes more than the house is worth. Millions of homes have fallen into foreclosure since the financial crisis began, with perhaps 2 million more ripe to follow suit. In a sure sign of trouble, practically the only investment reliably rising in price is gold.
As for growth, it's downright anemic, with another recession -- defined as two straight quarterly periods of economic shrinkage -- looking increasingly likely. Unfortunately we remain so mired in debt at every level, from the household to the national government, that we're ill-prepared to cope with a second recession if it befalls us.
It's little consolation that things are even worse in Europe, where cracks in the eurozone are threatening to become giant fissures thanks to a spreading debt crisis and timid leadership. Greece is almost certain to default, and banks across the continent are at risk from a contagion that could make it impossible for much bigger countries, including Italy and Spain, to sustain their debts. The result could be an economic tsunami that reaches right across the Atlantic, further imperiling the fragile U.S. economy.
For America, climbing out of the hole will probably take years -- and a change in outlook. We got into this mess because we cared far more about today than tomorrow. Instead of saving, we borrowed -- and not to invest, but to consume. Lenders, flush with cheap money, made reckless loans and passed the risks on to hapless investors. And Washington, swayed by campaign donations and anti-regulatory zeal, failed to rein in a runaway financial system. Lately, we even seem to have forgotten that we're all in this together, and that government itself isn't the enemy.
It looks like a hopeless mess. Yet betting against this American enterprise of ours has always been a fool's game. This time will be no different, for our great national assets remain uncompromised. We're still free, we still embrace the rule of law, and we're still the folks who issue the almighty dollar, the world's most widely used currency. While Europe, Japan and even China face shortages of young people in the decades ahead, we're still having babies, and we remain open to new people and new ideas. Nurtured by an unsurpassed system of higher education, American ingenuity has remade the modern world, and our people still brim with entrepreneurial energy.
It's worth remembering all this as the drumbeat of grim economic news continues -- lest we forget that, eventually, the music will change, and the dancing will resume. hN