Who Decides What a Recession Is?

Anticipating the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ release of second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) numbers on Thursday, the White House released a statement last week arguing that two successive quarters of negative real GDP growth do not officially qualify as a recession.

Soon after, the administration faced criticism for “redefining what a recession is,” in the words of Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich.

So what is a recession? It’s a sustained period of economic decline often popularly understood to mean at least two consecutive quarters of negative growth in real GDP—GDP adjusted for inflation. Journalists and analysts often refer to it as a “technical recession.”

If Thursday’s GDP numbers are negative, they will mark the beginning of a technical recession. This year’s first-quarter GDP decreased by 1.6 percent.

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