Raise a glass to the longest economic expansion in modern American history.

As of July 1, the current expansion surpassed the previous record for uninterrupted growth, set between 1991 and 2001.

But this time around, no one is accusing Americans of irrational exuberance: These good times don’t feel particularly good. Economic growth over the past decade has been slow and fragile, and most of the benefits have been claimed by a small minority of the population.

The sense of disappointment is more than a feeling. Through the first quarter of 2019, the nation’s gross domestic product had increased by 25 percent during the current expansion. Between 1991 and 2001, economic output expanded by 42 percent. Between 1982 and 1990, output increased 38 percent. And between 1961 and 1969, output grew by 52 percent.

The distribution of the gains is even less satisfying.

Truck drivers earned, on average, slightly less in 2018 than in 2009, after adjusting for inflation. Executive compensation, by contrast, went up, up and away. Chief executives of companies in the S&P 500 stock index — a list that includes most of the nation’s largest corporations — made an average of $14.5 million in 2018, increasing by $5.2 million in the past decade, according to data compiled by the AFL-CIO. …

The unemployment rate is bumping along at the lowest levels since the 1960s; wages have started to rise more quickly, particularly for low-wage workers.

But the fact that it took so long to get here is a big problem for many American families. While unemployment is low, the slow pace of the recovery means that the average rate of unemployment in a given month during the past decade was a full percentage point higher than during the 1991-2001 expansion and almost two points higher than between 1961 and 1969.

There is also reason to worry that America has squandered the opportunity for a more prosperous future. During periods of economic growth, governments can take advantage of swelling tax revenues to improve infrastructure, invest in education and fund research. Companies can plow profits into new products and markets. But over the past decade, both public and private sectors have largely refrained from investing.

A result of the Trump administration’s tax cut is that federal deficits, which usually shrink during periods of economic growth, are on the rise. That leaves less room for the government to respond to a downturn by cutting taxes or by increasing spending. And the Fed cannot easily ride to the rescue: It has kept rates low to extend this fragile expansion, leaving little room to cut rates.

The end of an expansion, like the death of a star, is visible only after it happens. It is possible the economy will continue to grow for years, giving policymakers a chance to do better; long-lived expansions have become increasingly common across the developed world.

It’s also possible that the analysts predicting a recession next year — there are always analysts predicting a recession next year — will turn out to be right.

So enjoy this lackluster expansion while it lasts. What comes next may well be worse.

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Excerpted from The New York Times.

Editor’s note: Editorials shared from other newspapers are offered in an effort to disseminate additional opinion and information, and do not necessarily represent the views of The Daily Progress.

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