By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ From household wealth to spending at stores, many of the U.S. economy's vital signs have recovered from the damage done by the Great Recession.
Home foreclosures and layoffs have dropped to pre-recession levels. Economic output has rebounded. And the Dow Jones industrial average is in record territory.
So is the economy back to full health? Not quite.
Not with unemployment at 7.7 percent and with 3 million fewer jobs than when the recession began. And while the housing market is improving, that engine of economic growth and job creation still has far to go before it can be declared healthy.
Perhaps the best way to think about the U.S. economy is this: After five painful years, it's nearly back to where it started when the recession began. What's different now is that the trends are much healthier. Gone are the fears that the economy could fall into another recession.
"We've made a lot of progress," says Michael Gapen, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital.
The recession officially began in December 2007. It ended in June 2009. Here's a look at ways in which the economy has returned to pre-recession levels and ways it hasn't:
â¿¿ HOUSEHOLD WEALTH: Americans lost $16 trillion in wealth during the recession, mainly because home values and stock prices sank. Those losses have now been reversed. Household "net worth" reached $66.1 trillion in the final three months of 2012, according to the Federal Reserve. That was just 2 percent below the peak reached in the fall of 2007. And steady increases in stock prices and home values so far this year have allowed Americans as a whole to regain all their lost wealth, though many individual families have yet to recover. Increased net worth is vital to the economy because it typically drives more spending. Net worth equals the value of homes, investments, bank accounts and other assets, minus debts such as mortgages, student loans and credit card balances.