Economy still growing, but much slower

ECONOMY STILL GROWING, BUT MUCH SLOWER…. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Most economic observers expected to see slower economic growth in the first quarter, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke noted yesterday that the new GDP report would show growth below 2%. Most analysts projected the figure to be between 1.7% and 1.9%.

And this morning, that’s exactly what we learned.

The American economy slowed to a crawl in the first quarter, but economists are hopeful that the setback will be temporary.

Total output grew at an annual pace of 1.8 percent last quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday, after having expanded at an annualized rate of 3.1 percent at the end of 2010.

The U.S. economy has grown in seven consecutive quarters, but the last quarter showed a drop in the growth rate after three consecutive increases.

No one, however, seems especially surprised. January through March was a rough patch — higher gas prices, scaled back defense spending, construction delayed by bad weather — that many seem to expect to be short-lived. Yesterday, Bernanke said the Fed still expects growth between 3.1% and 3.3% this year.

This, coupled with the fact that job growth over the same period was actually pretty good, is helping keep potential dread in check.

But let’s not forget that policymakers in Washington still seem eager to pursue austerity measures, scrapping public investments, taking money out of the economy, and moving away from job creation. We know the practical consequences of this: an even weaker economy. For that matter, the Fed is apparently unwilling to take additional steps to improve the status quo.

We can and must do much better than 1.8%, but we won’t if the nation pursues a conservative approach that focuses on one problem that doesn’t exist (inflation) rather than the problem that does exist (weak economic growth).

And with that, here’s another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the Great Recession began. The red columns show the economy under the Bush administration; the blue columns show the economy under the Obama administration.

gdp1Q2011.jpg

* edited for clarity