There is an old joke among economists that states: A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose your job.
The difference between the two terms is not very well understood for one simple reason: There is not a universally agreed upon definition. If you ask 100 different economists to define the terms recession and depression, you would get at least 100 different answers. I will try to summarize both terms and explain the differences between them in a way that almost all economists could agree with.
Recession: The Newspaper DefinitionThe standard newspaper definition of a recession is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two or more consecutive quarters.
This definition is unpopular with most economists for two main reasons. First, this definition does not take into consideration changes in other variables. For example this definition ignores any changes in the unemployment rate or consumer confidence. Second, by using quarterly data this definition makes it difficult to pinpoint when a recession begins or ends. This means that a recession that lasts ten months or less may go undetected.
Recession: The BCDC DefinitionThe Business Cycle Dating Committee at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) provides a better way to find out if there is a recession is taking place. This committee determines the amount of business activity in the economy by looking at things like employment, industrial production, real income and wholesale-retail sales. They define a recession as the time when business activity has reached its peak and starts to fall until the time when business activity bottoms out. When the business activity starts to rise again it is called an expansionary period. By this definition, the average recession lasts about a year.
Be Sure to Continue to Page 2 of "Recession? Depression? What's the Difference?"