December 1st, 2008
01:31 PM ET

It's the recession, stupid.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/01/art.recession.jpg]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Unlike a lot of politicians whose campaign ads and public statements suggest they don't have an ounce of faith in the intelligence of their fellow citizens, I've always thought the people of this country are pretty smart. We Americans can smell a rat when one scurries through the room. We know when we're being fed a line of horse manure. And we know what's really happening in our lives, even when Washington says it's not so.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has finally made official what all of us knew a long time ago: America is in a recession. To be fair, the folks in charge of making this determination do so based on a broad analysis of a lot of economic numbers. Those numbers create a strict definition of when a recession begins, when it peaks, and when it ends. So these people can not just declare one at the drop of a hat. The recession we are in now, according to the NBER, began a year ago in December, 2007.

But the thing is, you already knew it. One year ago, in that same December of 2007, more than half of you told us in a CNN poll that you thought a recession was underway. It was the first time a majority of you had said so in recent polling. You didn’t need a sophisticated analysis. You knew.

For months official Washington has danced around the issue; calling it a downturn, or a slow period, or whatever term they chose on that particular day to avoid telling you the truth. But you knew. You knew because you were living it.

You knew your job felt less safe. Your paycheck felt more pounded at the grocery store. You worried more about your savings (or lack of them,) your health care (or lack of it,) your kids' college fund (or whatever you call that much neglected and woefully small account that you dare not look at these days.) You saw friends and family lose jobs, and find fears about the future. You knew the economy of 2008, was not the same economy of a few years back.

No one likes being the bearer of bad news, and politicians really abhor that role. But now it is official: Even while Washington was refusing to admit there was smoke in the air, our economic house was burning down. Now, a year into the blaze, the question is will our leaders be more straightforward about how we will douse the inferno and begin to rebuild?

Filed under: Economy • Keeping Them Honest • Tom Foreman
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Debbie CItrus Heights CA

    A few years ago, I started thinking corp. executives and more than a few politicians were quite a bit alike in thinking that if they throw the bull around, pound it into our heads enough times, the "little" people would be brainwashed into thinking what they said was true. However, most little people are in tune with reality eventually, especially when it affects them one way or the other.

    December 1, 2008 at 5:56 pm |
  2. Melissa, Los Angeles

    Thanks Hugh!

    December 1, 2008 at 5:44 pm |
  3. Dulcie

    Well, D'uh!!!

    I saw this comingh after I lost my job last December and had to dig in for a long unemployment. I'll admit, it doesn't look exactly like I expected to, but it's close enough.

    Thanks, Tom! Always good to hear from you!

    December 1, 2008 at 5:06 pm |
  4. Tracey - Boston


    December 1, 2008 at 4:13 pm |
  5. Lauren R., USA

    Well, let's all just smirk at the same time. The government depends on their citizens to be stupid, and yet, we all knew we were in a recession, at the very least.

    This, coming from a government that told us about weapons of mass destruction. What truths could we ever expect from these people?

    But then again, while not being stupid, we do like our denial: as in, let's not care, as long as the credit card goes through at the cash register.

    So much for the trademark called American common sense!!

    December 1, 2008 at 3:46 pm |
  6. TONY

    Wouldnt it be nice if the people we voted to put in office had a website like obama put up for your concerns and comments.I dont have a phd are a college degree but sometimes all it takes is a little common sense.Politicans get up in front of the camera and say this and that americans want this.They have no idea what america wants are needs.Keep throwing money at banks take care of wall street.Do you even have a clue on how americans feel about the money you have thrown at the banks.And the 2 page appliacation to get millions.Its harder for us to get a couple hundred dollars in food stamps than it is for them to get millions.And theres no one who knows where the money is going

    December 1, 2008 at 3:31 pm |
  7. hugh ~ california

    It takes many years of economic failure before the economy falls into a recession. The congress was controlled by the republicans for the the first six of the last eight years. Get your facts straight before you distort them.

    "Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please."
    Mark Twain

    December 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  8. hugh ~ california

    There is more to this economic recession than just the mortgage crisis. Until we tax cheap imports from foreign countries to level the cost of products, and start producing more in America than just food, we will continue the downhill spiral. The out sourcing of jobs has a lot to do with the problem.
    We have become a nation primarily of consumers rather than producers. When US jobs decline production declines. People out of work cannot afford to spend, this creates a vicious cycle. As a result, people out of work lose their homes as well. This is what happened in the Great Depression. America was at its peak when it led the the world in production.

    "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
    George Wilhelm Hegel

    December 1, 2008 at 3:20 pm |
  9. carmen

    The biggest rat of all, Bush managed to go by "unsniffed" not once, but twice.

    December 1, 2008 at 3:06 pm |
  10. earle,florida

    Unfortunately now isn't the time to acknowledge a "Recession", but the beginning of a "Depression". You see folks,it's different this time? Our financial system isn't just confined to a comfortably,"Closed-In System",as it was in the 1930's,but entangled geographically with every known entity in the,"Ffinancial (globally) Universe! Heck,"Wall Street" is already predicting were in the bottom of the seventh inning of of this chameleon they call a recession,and you know the politicians will be right behind them. I will inform you of some very disturbing news regarding"China",the catalyst of the,"Go-Go(2000's)Decade" reported in China's(yesterday) news. Quote: China's President HuJintao spoke before the,(25 Member) Chinese Politburo that GDP/GNP will plummet from 9% to 7%, which could cause social/economic stress in a fledgling (relatively in historic years) economy.

    December 1, 2008 at 3:06 pm |
  11. Teresa, OH

    whodda thunk it, a recession?

    It makes me wonder if we would have admitted we were having problems, oh, say, about a year ago, if we just might not have saved the country about..... $700 billion dollars.

    The media needs to take part of the blame: they always blame us common folk as being quick to jump the gun, paranoid, or "ignorant" to what we see in front of our eyes. We might be smart, Tom, but UNTIL the media says it: what we know doesn't matter.

    December 1, 2008 at 2:50 pm |
  12. Larry

    Yet none of this falls at the feet of the democratically-controlled congress?

    December 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm |
  13. Presley

    Well, no one puts the "Recess" in "Recession" like our Government and the math of Bushonomics!
    I knew there was a Poll involved somewhere....

    December 1, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  14. Maria

    Recession hits part of United State, probably more than a year ago, and kept expanding like cancer with hopeless efforts to fix the problem, yet no one admit by that time. Now based on numbers, it is official. Even people are totally depressed of the situation; recession does not mean depression from economy point of view. Yes politicians dance around the issue (fundamental of the economy is strong). The ideal question is how the new administration can reverse the recession in short period of time.

    December 1, 2008 at 2:22 pm |
  15. Terra Hoskins

    Here's to hoping, Tom. They should. I don't know if these leaders realize that laying out the facts and game plan is a way to comfort people and help them climb on board. Do they avoid addressing a negative situation because they fear it reflects on them? Or are they still trying to figure out what to do?

    I suspect that the American people are more interested in finding solutions than pointing fingers right now.

    December 1, 2008 at 2:12 pm |
  16. Rockford

    JC-Los Angeles

    JC... the last recession had not ended by 9-11... you know... the one Clinton left starting in 98 when he de-regulated loans so anyone could get a mortgage.

    You might want to do a little research on recessions in this country...
    But don't let facts get in the way of your hate...

    December 1, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  17. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    Well.........duh. Even before the pundits and the media started crying the "sky is falling" people knew that a recession was happening or beginning.

    Here is the interesting thing, I heard of a brief CBS newsflash that Black Friday sales were up 7% from last year! Considering there is so much 'bad' news I am suspecting that people are now starting to have hope that help is on the way!

    With the new president, and tax breaks for ALL who make LESS than $250,000 ........ all this will help start the trend towards positive growth and thus..........jobs! A new day is dawning soon!

    December 1, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  18. JC-Los Angeles

    It should come as no surprise to anyone to hear that we have been in a recession for over a year yet our leadership is just finding out today.

    Since the second plane hit on 911, we have been in a recession/depression yet were artificially kept afloat by egregious interest rate cuts, Greenspanian hyperbole and pure fraud.

    Our nation has become a cesspool of failed leadership, gross materialism and morally bankrupt executives and citizens.

    I can just hear our leaders now: huh? what? duh? come again? excuse me? say what? should we? should we not? aaah? yikes.

    December 1, 2008 at 2:02 pm |
  19. Cindy

    It wasn't hard to see in "07 that we were in a recession and it's even less hard to see it now. The people in charge just want us to think that they know it all and know how to fix it. If they knew so much they should have done things to stop it from happening in the first place!


    December 1, 2008 at 1:58 pm |
  20. Max

    Awe, just put it on your CREDIT card????


    December 1, 2008 at 1:53 pm |
  21. Mary

    I don't think they really care, as long as they are making their big bucks, who cares about the middle class?
    Certainly not Washington.
    Bush never gave a hoot since he go into office.
    Can't January 20 get here any sooner?
    When will criminal charges start against Bush, also?

    December 1, 2008 at 1:51 pm |
  22. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Tom,
    Yeah, I think we all had a clue we were in a recession. Um, there were a few red flags on that one.
    I was in a local historical meeting ( which translates to many elitist) when I commented how lucrative the the project had been in spite of the ecoomy.
    One of the eletist remarked, " oh, Betty Ann, the economy doesn't affect THIS group"! Wow!
    I didn't know whether to laugh to push her chair over. Seriously!
    Anywho, I do believe that we are in or close to a depression. We will probably officially hear about that this time next year.
    Oh well, isn't it about time we learned to appreciate the real gifts in life and not be so hung up on material goods?
    I have a feeling a good lesson is in progress!
    Thanks for the blog.

    December 1, 2008 at 1:49 pm |