Expect a tough economy this spring

Closeup of dollar bill

All the experts agree -- the economy is growing much more slowly than it was just a few months ago.

The only question is: How slow will it go?

Our Gross Domestic Product -- the total value of all goods and services produced in the United States -- typically expands at 3% or 4% a year.

But most projections we've seen expect the GDP to grow at an annualized rate of a mere 0.5% to 1% during the first half of this year.

Initial reports say it did indeed grow at a 0.6% annualized rate in the first three months of the year.

That dip will take us perilously close to a recession, which is usually defined as two consecutive quarters where the GDP declines and we produce less than we did the previous year.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress in early April that a recession is possible during the first half of this year.

Moody's Economy.com says the economies of five states that account for about a quarter of the national economy -- California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Michigan -- already were contracting in the final quarter of 2007.

The mortgage crisis remains the biggest problem, and it just keeps getting worse.

More than 1.5 million homeowners lost their properties to foreclosure last year, more than twice the historical average, and that figure may exceed 2 million in 2008.

The economy has lost 252,000 jobs in the first four months of the year. If we fall into a recession, we'd lose 3 million jobs and the unemployment rate would rise to 6.4%, according to an analysis of historical data by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

That's considerably more than the 2 million jobs the Labor Department says we lost during the last downturn between 2001 and 2003.

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