I asked an administration official for a definition. A 5% decline in real GDP over the course of a year? Persistent unemployment, with rates above 10%? The question was meant to provoke a deeper thought, which is that the D word, as it descends upon us, will curve political space as we drag it into common use. When the frame is "deep recession," we think differently than when the frame is "depression."
Today, President Obama travels from a relatively prosperous Washington, D.C. to Elkhart, Indiana, a city that is, by most measures, suffering from a depression. It has the most unemployment per capita of any city in the country. It's still ayptical, but becoming more typical. There are many cities in the upper midwest that will see their unemployment rate exceed 10% and their contraction rate grow to above 5 percent. There will be a deep and persistent depression for certain parts of the country; others, like Northeastern cities, cities with service economies, will be able to escape the economic duress by surviving a recession only, so deep is the social safety network in our urban areas. The Senate slashed health and education spending and aid to states from the stimulus package before passing it; these cuts will hurt the poor and middle class in urban areas, but they're going to be more trouble for lower middle class whites across the Midwest.