Top Economist: "Great Recession Is Over"

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The administration is hailing the economy's strong, 5.7 percent annual growth rate reported for 2009's last quarter, the fastest pace since 2003 and second straight quarter of growth after four of decline.

And while many economists are waving caution flags, noting that much of the growth was simply from businesses replenishing threadbare inventories, one leading economist says flat-out that, "The Great Recession is over."

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, does point out that the economy isn't out of the woods yet, but says it appears to have turned the corner.

Zandi admits the recession is history only "in a very technical sense. It's probably in a sense only an economist can really appreciate. Not until we start to see jobs will, I think, people believe that the recession is over."

When will that be?

"I'm hopeful that, in the next few months, certainly by the spring and summer, we'll start to see some job growth," Zandi told "The Early Show Saturday Edition" co-anchor Erica Hill. "If history is any guide, when GDP (gross domestic product) rises ... then, a quarter or two down the road, businesses start on add to their payrolls, so they start to hire. So that means, come April, May, June, I'd expect some job growth."

Still, Zandi notes, "We've got a few significant headwinds: a lack of credit, particularly for small business; they need that credit to go out and to hire. The housing crisis continues on. We have lots of foreclosures, and that could drive down housing prices further. Commercial real estate is a problem, and of course, state and local governments all across the country have big budget holes, and if they don't get help from the federal government, they'll be cutting jobs and programs. So, it's good news, but not good enough.

"The coast isn't clear yet. ... We do have the risk of sliding backwards. I'd say about a one-in-four probability. Probably, the flash point would be sometime this summer."

Which is why, Zandi asserts, the jobs package President Obama wants is "absolutely" necessary.

"A one-in-four probability is too high a probability, particularly when we already have a 10 percent unemployment rate. We cannot backslide into recession. Otherwise, it's going to be a complete mess, so we have to make insure we don't, and a jobs bill is key to that."