At West Point last week, President Barack Obama went to a variant of an economic theme he’ll probably reprise until the day he leaves the Oval Office once and for all (we hope) 31-plus months from now.

Obama told the assembled graduating Army cadets and their families:

When I first spoke at West Point in (December) 2009 … our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

What if I told you that nearly five years into the nation’s “long climb” out of the recession, the relative size of the economy compared to its prerecession peak is not all that different from the result achieved in the same amount of time after the Great Depression of 1928-1933 officially ended? The case for this claim is surprisingly, or maybe I should say “unexpectedly,” strong.

I’m certainly not contending that the level of human suffering in 2014 is anywhere near what it was during the 1930s. That said, readers should know, if they don’t already, that the press has been mostly ignoring significant increases in homelessness in New York City, which “has more homeless than it has in decades,” and elsewhere. Minor reductions in the number of people literally living on the streets and in shelters are being more than offset by the hordes of American individuals and families living in cheap weekly motels because they can’t even scrape together the money for a security deposit on an apartment. When the press does deign to ever so briefly open its eyes, unlike during Republican administrations, they don’t tie the situation to economic policies coming out of Washington, and certainly not to our country’s president.

I should also note that the government presented only annual economic growth statistics until 1947, but that the Depression itself and the recession of 1937-1938 officially began and ended at various times during the years involved. This necessarily required some estimation when attempting to compare that era to the current one.

Let’s start with where we are after the dismal news on May 29 that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 1.0 percent in this year’s first quarter:


The full post-recession history shows that the economy finally returned to its pre-recession peak in the second quarter of 2011, the eighth quarter after the recession’s official end. No other post-World War II economy took longer than three quarters to accomplish this.