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City Talk: We remember recession with lessons unlearned

Memories fade fast, and the day-to-day grind can rob us of perspective.

Even with the demands of the 24-hour news cycle and the seemingly endless string of upsetting stories from around the world, I have been surprised that there hasn’t been more attention paid to the fact that this month marks a decade since the beginning of the 2007-2009 recession.

I never liked the term “Great Recession” and rarely used it. If the recession was really that “great,” wouldn’t it qualify as a “depression?”

On the other hand, maybe we should be using the word “depression” to describe that downturn. No, it wasn’t as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s, but we also have a social safety net today that mitigated some of the recession’s worst impacts.

We didn’t know definitively in December 2007 that the country had fallen into recession. A year passed before the National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed the date at which economic activity peaked. The NBER also waited a year for solid evidence of growth before declaring that the recession ended in June 2009.

Readers who are still hanging in there might remember that I was quietly going crazy by the end of 2007. The real estate sales numbers were tanking even as new listings exploded. Investors were gambling huge sums on properties that were destined to plummet in value, and individual buyers suddenly found themselves underwater on their mortgages.

Many Savannahians did not want to hear the bad news, however. In some quarters, the perilous spending, lending and borrowing continued right up till the financial crisis in fall 2008.

Throughout the early months of the recession, the conventional wisdom was that Savannah might be “immune” – I heard that word more times than I could count – or that we would bounce back quickly from any downturn, without any lasting damage.

As it turned out, of course, the recession proved horribly painful, and the aftershocks can be seen in everything from municipal budgets to unfinished developments.

Savannah did, however, recover quickly, at least relative to many other parts of the state and nation. You don’t have to drive far outside the metro area to find less densely populated areas where the recovery stagnated.

Based on the average length of economic expansions since World War II, we’re due for another recession, but other trends suggest that steady growth will continue deep into 2018.

As we look forward, we should also be looking back to remember the lessons we learned – or should have learned – a decade ago.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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