The National Bureau of Economic Research, the semi-official documenter of business cycles, said Monday the downturn lasted from February 2020 to April 2020 after the pandemic brought the nation's economy to a near standstill, triggering widespread business closures and a tidal wave of job losses.
The recession erased more than a decade of job gains in a single month – at 22 million, it was more than double what the U.S. lost during the 2008 financial crisis – and brought to an end the longest economic expansion on record, with gross domestic product plummeting by 31.4% in the second quarter on an annualized basis.
"The committee decided that any future downturn of the economy would be a new recession and not a continuation of the recession associated with the February 2020 peak," the non-profit group said in a statement. "The basis for this decision was the length and strength of the recovery to date."
The coronavirus recession is easily the shortest in U.S. history, followed by a recession the lasted six months in 1980. To qualify as a recession, there needs to be consecutive quarters of declining activity.
The NBER also said that May 2020 marked the start of the current expansion, meaning economic activity had stopped declining and activity started rising again.
Still, even though the recession ended, it doesn't mean the economy has returned to pre-crisis levels: There are still about 7 million fewer jobs than there were in February 2020, and millions of businesses are closed – many permanently.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the economy is "a ways off" from where it sat before the pandemic began and there is still "a long way to go" until the labor market recovers completely.
That the recession ended in May, however, comes as no surprise. The economy grew 33.4% in the third quarter on an annualized basis and 4% in the fourth quarter on an annualized basis, though it was not enough to offset the sharp downturn from the first few months of the year.
Economists expect U.S. GDP to grow 6.9% this year, the biggest increase since 1984, and return to full employment by next year, thanks in part to widespread vaccinations and trillions of dollars in government stimulus boost.
By comparison, GDP contracted at a 3.5% annualized rate in 2020.