Editorial, Opinion

STAFF EDIT: The “R” word

Ask any layperson whether the United States has entered a recession and the answer will likely be quick and certain: Of course the nation is in a recession. Job losses are accelerating, banks are failing and the U.S. government is spending billions to keep companies afloat. In the press, the economy has been falling, diving, bombing, tanking and crashing. It’s been called a failure. It’s been called a crisis. But it hasn’t been called a recession. For some reason, this word is nearly taboo to the American media.
In fairness, this aversion to the R-word is more than just gun-shy writers and editors mincing their news writing. It is an issue of accuracy. An economy must meet several prerequisites to earn the ‘recession’ moniker. The problem is that each publication has its own definition of what level of sustained unemployment and declining economic growth fits the bill for a recession.
To economists, it constitutes a prolonged period of economic decline. To workers, it might mean losing a job because of economic forces out of their control. To the press, it might mean more than it should. But more than anything else, it means bad news for just about everyone.
In the aftermath of the credit crisis and subsequent market failures, thousands find themselves out of work, and once-strong financial giants have crumbled under the weight of bad debt. That’s why it came as news to nobody that Massachusetts is now ‘officially’ in a recession, according to a Friday WBUR report.
The report cited last month’s economic growth in the Bay State, which was less than 1 percent, as grounds for dropping the ‘R-‘ bomb. Even then, the radio station was quick to attribute this conclusion to a UMass-Boston report. The station held off on naming the current economic climate outright, as if the word were a subjective judgment that would anger listeners and inspire mass panic.
These media outlets need to be bolder. The technicalities and difficulties with even defining the term ‘recession’ just prove the many understandings that word can have. The media should analyze the notion of an economic recession and define it for themselves. Continuing to dance around the term when so many people consider the state of the economy to be in recession will make the media seem out-of-touch.

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