U.S. economy keeps growing, but not well

U.S. ECONOMY KEEPS GROWING, BUT NOT WELL…. The good news is, the U.S. economy continued to grow in the third quarter. The better news is, the economy was even slightly healthier than it was in the second quarter.

The bad news is, this kind of tepid growth isn’t even close to what we need for a robust economic recovery.

Economic growth accelerated a bit late this summer, according to new government data, even as the nation remained stuck in a pattern of expansion that is too slow to bring down joblessness.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 2 percent annual rate in the July-through-September quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday, matching economists’ forecasts. That was a slight improvement from the 1.7 percent growth rate of the second quarter and the fifth straight quarter of expansion.

Spending by U.S. consumers, the largest component of GDP, spurred the uptick, rising in the third quarter to a 2.6 percent annual rate. The numbers also got a boost from business investment, federal government spending and businesses building inventories. International trade and the housing sector were both drains on economic growth.

The Bloomberg News report noted that the growth in consumer spending was the best in nearly four years, which it considered “a sign the expansion is developing staying power.”

That’s nice, but 2% growth isn’t the kind of economy that will bring down the unemployment rate.

Of course, ideally results like these would encourage policymakers to take additional actions to improve conditions, but that hasn’t been possible due to Republican obstructionism this year, and it almost certainly won’t happen after the midterms, after GOP candidates make sizable gains and demand an end to any efforts to grow the economy (other than tax cuts for the wealthy, which do little to grow the economy).

And with that, here’s another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the Great Recession began in late 2007. The red columns show the economy under the Bush administration; the blue columns show the economy under the Obama administration.

gdp3Q2010.jpg

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.