Editor’s note: Harry Davis is the chief economist for the North Carolina Bankers Association and is professor of banking at Appalachian State University.

BOONE — During the 1980s and 1990s expansions, economic growth slowed in the middle of each decade as the economy paused. Economic growth then took off, and each expansion lasted for several more years. Is the present situation a pause or the beginning of a recession?

The data are mixed.

The latest employment numbers, from December, show the slowest job growth in four years and an increase in the unemployment rate from 4.7 percent to 5.0 percent.

Employment growth last year was only 1.3 million, which is considerably slower than employment growth in 2006.

The housing slump continues, with the inventory of unsold homes at a historic high as sales have declined to a 12-year low.

Delinquent mortgages stand at a 20-year high, and most observers don’t expect the housing sector to hit bottom until next quarter.

Consumer confidence is down and is reflected in the slower rate of consumer spending, which makes up over 60% of GDP.

Slower spending and the credit issues for parts of the financial sector have slowed profit growth to less than 5%.

The price of a barrel of oil remains above $90.

Some data are positive.

The rates of GDP growth for the second and third quarters of last year were quite strong at 3.9% and 4.9%, respectively.

The unemployment rate remains under the average for the past 20 years.

Other economies around the world are experiencing robust growth,  including Canada, China, India, Australia and Brazil.

The dollar continues to be at record lows against the Euro, British Pound, and Canadian dollar, to name a few.

The lower value of the dollar and strong economic growth in other countries helped our export sector enjoy solid growth in both 2006 and 2007.

Even with the housing slump, existing and new home sales last year may have been the fifth- or sixth-best year on record.

In Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s most recent statement, he gave his most positive response for “substantive” future interest rate cuts. The chairman appears to be turning his focus from fighting inflation to increasing economic growth. Clearly, the Federal Reserve will cut rates by another 50 to 75 basis points before the end of the second quarter.

North Carolina has experienced rapid population growth in this decade. Yet even with the huge increase in population, our unemployment rate dropped over the last two years to last November’s rate of 4.7 percent. [The rate rose to 5 percent in December.]

The number of people employed in the state increased by more than 34,000 in 2007 through November. State revenue growth continues to advance ahead of projections.

Housing is not the drag on our state economy that it is in several other states.

Hopefully, the national economy is in a pause and not the beginning of a recession. If the Federal Reserve acts aggressively and housing finds a bottom, we may avoid a recession for now – or at least set the stage for a short, mild one.