The Great Recession is over, according a member of the committee of professors that is the recognized arbiter on such matters.
Harvard University economist Jeffrey Frankel made the declaration Monday on his personal blog, citing Friday's Labor Department announcement that the U.S. economy created 162,000 jobs in March, the most since March 2007.
President Obama has said that he hopes that the recession has ended, and his top advisers have gone so far as to say that it ended sometime in 2009, but unlike Frankel, they are not charged with making that judgment.
Frankel is one of seven voting members of the Business Cycle Dating Committee, which is part of the National Bureau for Economic Research, a nonpartisan research organization based at Harvard. It has no official role, but for decades it has been the most widely recognized authority on when recessions begin and end. Frankel doesn't speak for the committee, which typically waits a year or so after a recession has ended to make its decisions, but the reasoning in his blog posting reflects the kind of consensus about recessions that the committee has published in the past.
In an interview, Frankel declined to offer a personal view on when the recession ended, but based on his posting and others he made in 2009, he seems to be pointing to June or July of last year, when gross domestic product started growing again after 18 months of contraction.
The Business Cycle Dating Committee has eight members, but one of them is David Romer, who has told colleagues that as the husband of White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer he would abstain from any committee decisions that might affect Obama's political fortunes.
Obama and Democrats would surely benefit in this fall's elections from a growing perception that the economy is improving. Many economists have warned that strong job creation could lag far behind economic growth in a recovery, as it did after the 2001 recession, when it took another two years for major job gains. Frankel says, however, that employment in this recession hasn't lagged nearly as much and that March's growth seems an unequivocal sign that the recession is over. He had speculated on his blog last August that the recession was probably over.
Depending on when it is judged to have ended, the Great Recession is likely to have been the longest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is arguable whether the broad economic effects make it worse than other recessions like the 1981-82 downturn. Unemployment reached 10 percent in the recent recession, and hit 10.7 percent in 1981-82. The collapse in home prices and near-collapse of the banking system in this recession have added to the misery for many and may well portend a slow recovery.
Christina Romer used to be a member of the Business Cycle Dating Committee before joining the Obama White House. In December, she said that while the recession may have ended in technical terms, it hadn't ended for those who were still looking for a job.