Tout tient en un chiffre

NEW HAVEN - Le chiffre est 0,2%. C'est la croissance moyenne annuelle des  dépenses des consommateurs américains au cours des 14 derniers trimestres - calculée en termes indexés sur l'inflation depuis le premier trimestre 2008 jusqu'au deuxième trimestre 2011. Jamais auparavant, dans l'ère qui suit la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les consommateurs américains n'ont été si affaiblis depuis si longtemps. Ce chiffre résume à lui seul une grande partie de ce qui va mal aujourd'hui aux États-Unis - et dans l'économie mondiale.

Il y a deux phases distinctes à cette période de faiblesse sans précédent du consommateur américain. Depuis le premier trimestre de 2008 jusqu'à la deuxième période de l'année 2009, la demande des consommateurs a chuté pendant six trimestres consécutifs à un taux annuel de 2,2%. Sans surprise, la contraction a été la plus aiguë pendant les affres de la grande crise, lorsque la consommation a plongé à un taux de 4,5% pendant les troisième et quatrième trimestres de 2008.

Comme l'économie des États-Unis était au creux de la vague à la mi-2009, les consommateurs sont entrés dans une deuxième phase - une reprise très modérée. La croissance de la consommation réelle annuelle au cours de la période des huit trimestres ultérieurs, allant du troisième trimestre de 2009 au deuxième trimestre de 2011, a été en moyenne de 2,1%. C'est la reprise de la consommation la plus anémique jamais enregistrée - au total 1,5 % plus lente que la tendance de pré-crise de 12 ans à 3,6% qui prévalait entre 1996 et 2007.

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