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Updated: June 26, 2023 Editorial

Editorial: We’re not out of the woods yet

For a couple of years, we’ve been worrying about a possible recession, as conflicting economic indicators have been pointing to a possible slowdown in the economy. Still, despite the many headwinds - like the war in Ukraine and a steep rise in interest rates – unemployment remains incredibly low, and businesses are still hiring as they look to fill key positions and meet persistent demand.

Heading into 2023, WBJ readers were more pessimistic about the future of the economy than at any point since at least 2012, according to the results of our annual end-of-year Economic Forecast Survey, where 37% of respondents said the local economy would slightly or significantly decrease this year. For the updated Midyear Economic Survey taken for this edition (see the results), that number climbed to 48%.

This increasing pessimism was reflected in the most recent Massachusetts Business Confidence Index, a poll produced by Associated Industries of Massachusetts. The index, which takes a monthly measure of how local business leaders feel about the economy, in May scored 49.6, on its 0-100 scale where anything above 50 is considered optimistic. The Central Massachusetts version of that number was barely above the line at 50.3. While the weather is a little better in our region than the state as a whole, it's still a pretty cloudy forecast.

While these figures of business sentiment don’t instill much confidence, individual businesses still seem fairly confident about their own prospects. In WBJ’s Mid Year Economic Survey, the overwhelming majority of our readers said their companies’ performance met or exceeded expectations, with their main issue finding enough new workers to fill open positions. With statewide unemployment now below 3% for the first time in 2023, it’s clear the labor market remains incredibly strong. If companies are able to find the right people and reach their desired operational levels, their confidence will rise and optimism about the overall local economy should rebound.

The good news is the recessionary downturn many have been dreading still has not come to pass. While it’s still a possibility a significant slowdown may happen, each day moves us closer to a turn to strong economic growth. The resilience of our regional economy has been impressive, and the cloudy forecasts can only go on for so long.

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