WASHINGTON - Private-sector growth and job creation continue to drive the U.S. economic expansion. Since the recovery began in the second quarter of 2009, real GDP has grown at a 2¼ percent annual rate, and private domestic final demand has grown faster, by 2¾ percent. The private sector has created nearly 7.6 million payroll jobs over the past 43 months, recouping 86 percent of the private-sector jobs lost during and after the Great Recession. Overall, the unemployment rate has declined by 2.8 percentage points and currently stands at 7.2 percent, the lowest unemployment rate since November 2008. As part of the ongoing expansion, we have seen improvement in the housing market and household balance sheets, as well as an expansion in the manufacturing sector. This solid private-sector performance has been achieved alongside notable improvement in the government’s fiscal position. The federal deficit as a percent of GDP is now less than half what it was in 2009.
Revised data for real GDP growth in the second quarter of this year, which is the latest quarter available, show that economic growth accelerated to 2.5 percent at an annual rate from 1.1 percent in the first quarter. A rebound in business fixed investment and faster growth in residential investment drove the acceleration, and government spending exerted a smaller drag on economic activity than in the prior quarter. These factors were partly offset by slower growth of personal consumption expenditures and less business inventory accumulation. GDP data for the third quarter is scheduled to be released on November 7. A consensus of private forecasters is anticipating a moderation in the pace of growth to around 2 percent.
Businesses added to payrolls again in September, bringing total job creation this year to 1.6 million. Nonfarm payrolls advanced by 148,000 in September, including a 126,000 gain in private employment. From the first half of the year, however, the pace of job growth slowed in the third quarter to an average of 143,000 per month from an average of 195,000 per month. Even so, the unemployment rate continued to decline and in September edged down to 7.2 percent, its lowest level in nearly five years. The October employment report, originally scheduled for release on November 1, is expected on November 8.
CondItions in the housing market have improved considerably over the past few years. Home sales and housing starts so far this year are running well ahead of last year’s pace. Home prices have risen steadily for more than a year following five years of decline. Rising home values are pushing more underwater households back into a positive equity position and helping to return the housing market to balance. Less than 15 percent of borrowers are now underwater on their mortgages, down from 25 percent at the end of 2011. Although mortgage interest rates rose by more than a full percentage point from early May through mid-September, they remained very low by historical standards, and in recent weeks, have retraced roughly 50 basis points. Despite higher home prices and rising mortgage rates, housing affordability remains well above its long-term average. The pickup in housing activity over the past several quarters has been an important source of strength and, despite some recent signs of softening, the outlook remains favorable.
Headline consumer price inflation and core inflation, which strips out the volatile food and energy components, have been low. In the year through September, the consumer price index (CPI) rose by 1.2 percent, decelerating markedly from its 2.0 percent, year-earlier pace. Core consumer prices rose by 1.7 percent in the twelve months through September, less than the 2.0 percent pace in the previous twelve month period. The slowdown in inflation is partly due to temporary influences, such as lower prices for medical care services.
Despite evidence of resilience and progress, the economy has not been growing fast enough and the pace of hiring has not been strong enough to bring the economy back to full employment. A number of economic headwinds – many of them out of our direct control – have held our economy back since the recovery began four years ago, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in early 2011, the fiscal crisis in Europe, and others. Most recently, however, the debt ceiling impasse and shutdown of the federal government likely weighed on growth and hiring at the start of the fourth quarter. While the total effect will not be known for some time, private forecasters estimate that these recent developments likely reduced real GDP by ¼ to ½ percentage point. Currently, real GDP is expected to rise 2.0 percent over the four quarters of 2013 following a similar gain during 2012, and forecasters still anticipate an acceleration in growth to 2.8 percent over the four quarters of 2014.
While the economy is poised for stronger growth over the coming year, the political process poses some risk. Over the past four fiscal years, the United States has made notable progress toward stabilizing the country’s fiscal outlook. The budget deficit has fallen from a peak of 9.8 percent of GDP in FY2009 to 4.1 percent of GDP in the fiscal year that just ended. This consolidation is the fastest pace of deficit reduction over a sustained period since World War II, and the deficit is now less than half of what it was when the President took office. The deficit is projected to narrow further over the next decade, a trend that will help stabilize, and ultimately reduce, the national debt as a share of GDP. The government shutdown has ended, and the Congress has funded the U.S. government through January 15 and lifted the debt ceiling until February 7. Congress has also created a bipartisan, bicameral committee to develop recommendations, by December 15, for additional deficit reduction. The Administration remains committed to reaching a budget agreement that supports near-term growth and jobs while maintaining fiscal discipline.