2020-06-09 00:29:03 UTC
The U.S. economy entered a recession in February, a group of economists declared
Monday, ending the longest expansion on record just as the novel coronavirus
began swiftly spreading across the country.
The economists said employment peaked in February and fell sharply afterward,
marking the beginning of the downturn as cases of COVID-19 metastasized
throughout the U.S., soon killing thousands, shutting down millions of
businesses and sparking stay-at-home orders for much of the nation's population
What a difference a pandemic can make: Just weeks earlier in February, the
jobless rate stood at 3.5%, the lowest rate in 50 years, and employers in
February had added 273,000 workers. The subsequent job losses tens of millions
of newly unemployed Americans from March to May were the steepest ever seen in
The economists who declared the recession's start make up a committee within the
National Bureau of Economic Research, a trade group that determines when
recessions begin and end. It defines a recession as "a decline in economic
activity that lasts more than a few months."
The committee noted, though, that in this case, the depth of the downturn since
February had led it to determine that a recession had begun.
"The unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production, and
its broad reach across the entire economy, warrants the designation of this
episode as a recession, even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier
contractions," the NBER panel said.
The unemployment rate is officially 13.3%, down from 14.7% in April. Both
figures are higher than in any other downturn since World War II. A broader
measure of underemployment that includes some of the unemployed who have given
up looking and those who have been reduced to part-time status is 21.2%.
The NBER's placing of the recession's start in February 2020 also marks the
official end of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history: More than 10
years of growth, or 129 months, that started during the depths of the financial
crisis during the Obama administration in June 2009.
In an indication of the unusual scale and nature of the downturn, "the NBER
called this recession just over three months after its onset, making this the
fastest call since the 1980 recession, much shorter than the usual nine months
to a year," Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist with Oxford Economics, said in a