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In This Economy, Even The Upswing Doesn't Feel So Good01:22
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Here’s the scene: A big gray room at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the buzz of fluorescent lights and a roomful of economists trying to make heads or tails of PowerPoint graphs.

The numbers are dense, the charts are complicated, and they’re open to interpretation. But most here agree that the recession is only about now bottoming out across New England. But it’s not going to feel like it’s over, because unemployment lags.

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Some of the region’s leading economists convened in Boston on Tuesday to give their assessment of the recovery. They say that, while the regional economy is technically getting better, it won’t feel like that for a good while.

"It’s going to take a long time to start this recovery process," says Ross Gittel, an economist from the University of New Hampshire.

"I use the term recovery to really mean here employment starting to grow," Gittel continues. "Because that’s when people, residents of New England, are really going to feel like a recovery has started."

And that’s not going to happen, Gittel says, for another year. The region has lost about 300,000 jobs. He thinks it think it still has another 100,000 to go — "So we’re three-quarters of the way there in terms of number of jobs lost," he says.

The problem is not so much layoffs anymore. It’s that few businesses are hiring.

"Businesses are running scared," says Gus Faucher of Moody's Economy.com. "You know they’ve been through a dramatic downturn. They’re going to be very reluctant to hire workers until they absolutely need to. And then, also, they have a lot of slack in their existing workforces as it is."

That’s because the average workweek nowadays is about 33 hours. It’s easier for companies to give people more hours, and take employees off furlough, than it is to hire new ones.

Still, that does mean more people will get more money. That’s a start, says Northeastern University economist Alan Clayton-Matthews.

"That’s what’s really going to get this recovery going. More household incomes mean better consumer confidence," Clayton-Matthews says.

"Once they start spending more, businesses start selling more and they start expanding their capacity and, eventually, they have to hire more people," he says.

It just takes a while. Look for job growth about this time next year.

This program aired on November 10, 2009.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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