Regular people (i.e., those who are not professional economists) only know if they are in a recession or not when they read the newspapers or watch TV. We can't know what the whole economy is doing, but are only able generalize from our informal collection of anecdotal evidence about our own situation and those of the people who we know. As a result, economic conditions as understood by the economists do not always line up with everyday experience.
A case in point is the "Great Recession." Technically speaking, it lasted only a year and a half. (The retroactive dates of the various twists and turns of the business cycle are traditionally set by the National Bureau of Economic Research. This is not a government agency, but a widely respected non-profit whose members are economists.) According to the standard measures, the most recent recession lasted only until December of 2009; since then the unemployment rate has declined by half, from 10% to 5%.
Yet many individual economic actors (otherwise known as "people") do not seem to feel like their economic situation has improved. As late as March 2015, one poll reported that 57 percent of Americans still believed us to be in a recession. The reason for the disjunct between the official statistics and the ground-level economic experience are many and varied: they include the limited reliability of the unemployment rate as it is currently tabulated, the decline of manufacturing in the United States and the fact that most of the new jobs are are in the comparatively lower-paying service and retail sectors. The result, however, is that even as we are being told that there are more jobs than ever, the times still do not inspire much confidence, hope for the future, or support for the American Dream.
[more after the jump]