According to economists, "the Great Recession"—the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s—officially ended 30 months ago. The private, non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research, for instance, tells us the recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.
Yet it's hard to find anyone who feels things have gotten materially better since then. A November 2011 poll conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, a research center based at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., showed that not only do 73 percent of Americans think we're still in a recession, but more than half (53 percent) believe the worst is yet to come for the U.S. economy.
It's not hard to understand why. A lagging housing and construction market, nearly a decade of wage stagnation, and the fear of inflation (especially relative to necessities like food, gasoline, and home heating fuel) have conspired to create a widespread sense of economic malaise.
That's not to say there aren't signs of improvement out there. Growth in the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) from July through September 2011 hit 2 percent. Not great, but a clear improvement over the second quarter's 1.3 percent. And just last month, the nation's unemployment rate finally dropped below 9 percent for the first time since March 2009.
There are even indications that the public's mood is beginning to brighten. Take the Marist surveys, for example. Although the institute's November poll found that 53 percent of the respondents believed the U.S. economy had yet to hit bottom, that was down significantly from the 68 percent who were of the same mind in August. Still not great, but it suggests at least a guarded sense of optimism.
Those findings align nicely with the results of our own 2012 Outlook survey, which asked DC Velocity's readers what they foresaw for the U.S. economy in the months ahead. As Editor at Large James Cooke notes in his report on the survey results, more logistics professionals are optimistic than are pessimistic about the U.S. economy's prospects over the next 12 months. Admittedly, the percentages are close: 39 percent of respondents said they believed economic conditions would improve, while 34 percent described themselves as pessimistic about the future. About 27 percent said they were unsure what 2012 would hold.
The survey respondents expressed similar views when asked about their own companies' revenue prospects. Thirty-five percent said they expected revenues to be flat in 2012, while a slightly smaller share (34 percent) said they anticipated strong sales growth. Another 25 percent predicted sales would be weak, and 6 percent had no opinion.
In addition to the questions about general economic conditions and revenues, the survey asked respondents about their spending plans for logistics products and services over the next 12 months. Of the 189 survey-takers, about 55 percent said they expected to boost their transportation expenditures in 2012.
That doesn't necessarily mean they're gearing up for a surge in freight volumes. It might simply mean they're bracing for higher rates. Like the general public, logistics professionals remain concerned about the effects of rising energy costs (89 percent of the survey respondents said they expected fuel prices to go up in 2012). And as anyone in this business knows, as fuel costs go, so go freight rates.
In any event, the economic news may not exactly be good, but the outlook is clearly better than it's been in some time. To put it another way, the search for signs of optimism will likely prove more fruitful now than at any time in the past three years.