US economy drops at 0.6% annual rate

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FILE – Hiring sign is displayed at a restaurant in Highland Park, Ill., Thursday, July 14, 2022. Fewer Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as the labor market continues to shine despite weakening elements of the U.S. economy. Applications for jobless aid for the week ending Aug. 27, fell by 5,000 to 232,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday, Sept. 1. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Battered by surging consumer prices and rising interest rates, the U.S. economy shrank at a 0.6% annual rate from April through June, the government announced Thursday, unchanged from its previous second-quarter estimate.

It marked the second consecutive quarter of economic contraction, one informal rule of thumb for a recession. Most economists, citing a strong and resilient American job market, believe the world’s biggest economy is not yet in a downturn. But they worry that it might be headed for one as the Federal Reserve ratchets up interest rates to combat inflation.

Consumer spending grew at a 2% annual rate, but that gain was offset by a drop in business inventories and housing investment.

The U.S. economy has been sending out mixed signals this year. Gross domestic product, or GDP, went backward in the first half of 2022. But the job market has stayed strong. Employers are adding an average 438,000 jobs a month this year, on pace to be the second-best year for hiring (behind 2021) in government records going back to 1940. Unemployment is at 3.7%, low by historic standards. There are currently about two jobs for every unemployed American.

But the Fed has raised interest rates five times this year — most recently Sept. 21 — to rein in consumer prices, which were up 8.3% in August from a year earlier despite plummeting gasoline prices. Higher borrowing costs raise the risk of a recession and higher unemployment. “We have got to get inflation behind us,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last week. “I wish there was a painless way to do that. There isn’t.”

Thursday’s report was the Commerce Department’s third and final take on second-quarter growth. The first look at the economy’s July-September performance comes out Oct. 27. Economists, on average, expect that GDP returned to growth in the third quarter, expanding at a modest 1.5% annual pace, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

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