The government, in a transparent attempt to “spin” bad economic news, said Feb. 29 that consumer spending posted a 0.4 percent rise in January and that this was better than economists had been expecting.

A closer look at economic indicators, however, shows that all of that increase came, not from people having more to spend but from people having to spend more for less. A continued surge in inflation, particularly in prices of food and fuel, forced people to spend more of the little they have.

Minus inflation, people have been purchasing less now for several months. Not counting the months just after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, consumer spending figures have not been as dismal since November, 2001, when American workers were struggling to recover from the first Bush recession, a recession many have not yet overcome.

The government also claimed in its Feb. 29 report that in January incomes posted a 0.3 percent rise. The reality here is that the “higher” January income figures resulted from a one time event – obscene annual bonuses paid to corporate executives.

President Bush told reporters on Feb. 28 that he did not think the country was in a recession. The readings mean that President Bush’s claims notwithstanding, a second Bush recession is a reality. Flat or declining spending figures for the end of last year and the beginning of this year mean an extremely weak economy because consumer spending accounts for two thirds of total economic activity.

Other parts of the Commerce Department report issued Feb. 29 tell more than what Bush was willing to admit when he spoke with reporters. When analyzed, they show that the economy had already grounded to a halt in the last quarter of last year when the effects of the slumps in housing and credit caused everyone to tighten their belts tighter than they have in a long time.

The Commerce Department report noted that the gross domestic product increased at a tiny 0.6 percent pace in the last quarter of 2007. In the prior quarter it had grown 4.9 percent.

Gross domestic product, not spending figures unadjusted for inflation or CEO salary hikes, are a better measure of the country’s economic health. Gross domestic product measures the total value of all goods and services produced in the United States.

Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke, using well modulated and often incomprehensible phrases such as “downside risk,” discussed the weakening economy at congressional hearings the day before the figures were released.

Workers, of course, don’t need to debate whether or not we are in a recession. For millions the first Bush recession never ended.

Median income has declined by $1,100 per year since Bush took office.

Worker productivity rose by seven percent since Bush took office while wages suffered the same decline as median income has. This, of course, means that extra profits from this rising productivity have gone directly into the pockets of the corporations.

More than one fifth of the total income in the U.S. is going to the top 1 percent. A shrinking share goes to the so called middle class and to the bottom 20 percent. That completely reverses the trend that started after World War II and lasted until the early 1970s. The U.S. now has the greatest inequality of incomes in any developed nation with the gap wider now than it was before the Great Depression.

Does it really matter whether we call this a recession?

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