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America's Greater Recession Began in February

By Rich Smith – Jun 8, 2020 at 5:43PM

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Did you notice? I'll bet you noticed.

The first column I wrote for The Motley Fool on the subject of coronavirus, I wrote in February. Just a few weeks later, the entire United States economy fell into recession.

So says the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which on Monday confirmed that monthly economic activity peaked in February before entering a precipitous decline that has already cost some 40 million Americans their jobs.  

Big red stamp reads RECESSION

Image source: Getty Images.

This is news to many, including economists who were pretty sure we were in a recession by March, but hadn't realized how quickly the first widely reported cases of coronavirus outside of China took their toll on the economy in February. As news spread, travelers quickly stopped traveling, restaurant patrons stopped patronizing restaurants, and hotel guests checked out ... and didn't check back in.

That's the bad news. Now here's the good. According to The Wall Street Journal, a "recession" is defined as a decline in economic activity that stretches on for "more than a few months." Four months after February, we've already reached that mark, though, but "signs are emerging that the economy may have hit bottom in May," and 2.5 million of the jobs lost to the recession, we got back in the month of May.

So is the recession over now? Maybe it is. On the other hand, tens of millions of Americans are still out of work, and the economy, although reopen-ing, is still far from fully open. Meanwhile, a survey of 511 professional epidemiologists, just published by The New York Times, shows that among the folks who know best how dangerous coronavirus remains, a clear majority expect to be still be "routinely wearing a face covering" more than a year from now.  

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