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Economy growing at slowest pace since recession

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The economy expanded at meager 1.3-percent annual rate in the spring after scarcely growing at all in the first three months of the year, the Commerce Department said Friday.

The combined growth for the first six months of the year was the weakest since the recession ended two years ago. The government revised the January-March figures to show just 0.4-percent growth — down sharply from its previous estimate of 1.9 percent.

High gas prices and scant income gains have forced Americans to pull back sharply on spending in the spring. Consumer spending only increased 0.1 percent this spring, the smallest gain in two years. Government spending fell for the third straight quarter.

Stocks dropped in morning trading. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 100 points, and broader indexes also declined.

"These numbers are extremely bad," said Nigel Gault, an economist at IHS Global Insight. "The momentum in the economy is clearly very weak."

The sharp slowdown means the economy will likely grow this year at a weaker pace than last year. Economists don't expect growth to pick up enough in the second half of the year to lower the unemployment rate, which rose to 9.2 percent last month.

The weaker data will also add pressure to already-tense negotiations between President Barack Obama and lawmakers over increasing the debt limit. Any deal will likely include deep cuts in government spending. That could slow growth further in the short term.

But if Congress fails to raise the debt limit and the government defaults, financial markets could fall and interest rates could rise.

"It is hard to see the economy getting much stronger," Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said in a research note. "In fact, if the debt ceiling is not raised ... we could well have another recession on our hands."

Earlier this year, economists thought that a Social Security payroll tax cut would accelerate growth in 2011. But most of that money has gone to pay for higher gas prices.

Consumer spending on long-lasting manufactured goods, such as cars and appliances, fell 4.4 percent. Many auto dealers reported shortages of popular models after Japan's March 11 earthquake, cutting into auto sales.

Employers have pulled back on hiring after seeing less spending by consumers. The economy added just 18,000 net jobs in June, the fewest in nine months and a steep drop from the average of 215,000 jobs per month added from February through April.

Those who have jobs are seeing little gain in their incomes. After-tax incomes, adjusted for inflation, rose only 0.7 percent, matching the previous quarter and the weakest since the recession ended.

The drop in government spending was driven by cuts at the state and local level. Those governments have slashed spending in seven of the eight quarters since the official end of the recession.

Business investment, which has been a driver of growth during the recovery, also faltered this spring. Spending on equipment and software grew 5.7 percent in the second quarter, down from the first quarter's 8.7 percent pace and below the double-digit gains posted last year.

The government also revised data going back to 2003. The data show the recession was even worse than previously thought. The economy shrank 5.1 percent during the recession, which lasted from December 2007 through June 2009, compared to the earlier estimate of 4.1 percent. Both figures represent the worst downturn since World War II.

"The depth of the recession is now clearly so much deeper," Gault said.

Friday's report is the first of three estimates the government releases of the gross domestic product, which measures everything from restaurant meals to auto production to government spending.

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  1. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

  5. I have obtained my 6 gallon badge for my donation of A Positive blood. I'm sorry to hear that my donation was nothing but a profit center for the Indiana Blood Center.

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