The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported this morning that gross domestic product (GDP, the widest measure of economic activity) grew at a 1.9 percent annualized rate in the last quarter of 2016, down from the 3.5 percent rate in the 3rd quarter. This 1.9 percent growth is just shy of the 2.1 percent growth the economy has averaged over the entire recovery since mid-2009. Growth since the Great Recession has been remarkably long-lived and steady—the recovery is now just one quarter shy of the 1980s recovery in terms of its durability, and these two trail only those from the 1960s and 1990s for length. But growth since the Great Recession has also been slow—notably held back by austerity in government spending. Remarkably, total government consumption and investment expenditures (in inflation-adjusted dollars) was lower in the last quarter of 2016 than it was at the beginning of the Great Recession nine years ago.
Besides slowing overall growth, this austerity has also contributed to the subdued price growth seen over this recovery. In the last quarter of 2016 core prices (excluding food and energy) rose at just a 1.3 percent rate, down from the 1.7 percent rate in the previous quarter. This slow growth in both GDP and prices is a strong indicator that the economy, though growing consistently, still has ample room to step up its pace of growth without sparking too-high inflation. In short, the Trump administration is inheriting a long-lived and stable recovery, but one with ample room to grow—so long as it’s not hampered by more spending cuts and fiscal austerity.