This graph was included in the new Economic Report of the President, which explains the difference:
From the end of the recession in mid-2009 to the fourth quarter of 2012, real State and local purchases declined 6.8 percent. By contrast, during the comparable period of each of the six previous recoveries, real State and local purchases posted positive growth, averaging an increase of 10.3 percent over the first three and a half years of the recovery.
The dichotomy between this facet of the current recovery and others should be an appreciable one; a 10.3 percent addition versus a 6.8 percent subtraction from the economy.
Yet the same dynamics also show up in public employment during this recovery, shown in what I’ll call the bonus chart (because I can’t just post one), from EPI:
Now this is the total public-sector change, true, but most of it are reductions in state and local government; that plunging blue line represents some three-quarters of a million job losses, compared to gains in the last two recoveries. Of course these aren’t the only dissimilarities between now and such various ‘thens.’ They’re just the ones that should be brought up more often in how this recovery tale really, truly, is different.