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Tough times linger on

The worst recession since the Great Depression is nearing an end. Statistically, it may already be over.

Gross domestic product fell only 1 percent in the second quarter, a half point better than expected. That made four straight quarters of contraction, the first time that's happened since records began being kept after World War II.

Revised figures show the worst of the recession was every bit as bad as it felt. The economy shrank 6.4 percent in the first quarter following a 5.4 percent shrinkage in the fourth quarter of 2008.

President Barack Obama said that some of that progress was "directly attributable" to the $787 billion stimulus package enacted earlier this year. That judgment may be premature. Government defense spending increased better than twice as fast as domestic spending, where the stimulus bill is targeted, in the second quarter, and much of the stimulus money has yet to hit the economy.

The gloomy facts are that consumers are reluctant to spend and that unemployment will continue to rise into 2010 even as the economy recovers.

The recession officially began in 2007, and it will officially end when the economy begins growing again. The forecasts are for the economy to resume modest growth in the third quarter, which began July 1, perhaps around 1.5 percent before accelerating to a more acceptable 4 percent later this year.

The economists may pronounce the recession over. But to paraphrase Bluto in "Animal House": "Nothing is over until the people decide it is."