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In the United States the beginning and ending dates of national recessions are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The NBER defines a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real gross domestic product (GDP), real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales".

There have been as many as 47 recessions in the United States since 1790 (although economists and historians dispute certain 19th-century recessions). These downturns are driven by changes in the government's regulatory, fiscal, trade and monetary policies. Cycles in agriculture, consumption, and business investment, and the health of the banking industry also contribute to these declines. U.S. recessions have increasingly affected economies on a worldwide scale, especially as countries' economies become more intertwined.

In the 19th century, recessions frequently coincided with financial crises. Determining the occurrence of pre-20th-century recessions is more difficult due to the dearth of economic statistics, so scholars rely on historical accounts of economic activity, such as contemporary newspapers or business ledgers. Although the NBER does not date recessions before 1857, economists customarily extrapolate dates of U.S. recessions back to 1790 from business annals based on various contemporary descriptions. Their work is aided by historical patterns, in that recessions often follow external shocks to the economic system such as wars and variations in the weather affecting agriculture, as well as banking crises.

Major modern economic statistics, such as unemployment and gross domestic product, were not compiled on a regular and standardized basis until after World War II. The average duration of the 11 recessions between 1945 and 2001 is 10 months, compared to 18 months for recessions between 1919 and 1945, and 22 months for recessions from 1854 to 1919. Because of the great changes in the economy over the centuries, it is difficult to compare the severity of modern recessions to early recessions. Recessions after World War II appear to have been less severe than earlier recessions, but the reasons for this are unclear.

Early recessions and crises

Attempts have been made to date recessions in America beginning in 1790. These periods of recession were not identified until the 1920s. To construct the dates, researchers studied business annals during the period and constructed time series of the data. The earliest recessions for which there is the most certainty are those that coincide with major financial crises.

Beginning in 1834, an index of business activity by the Cleveland Trust Company provides data for comparison between recessions. Beginning in 1854, the National Bureau of Economic Research dates recession peaks and troughs to the month. But for the earliest recessions, there are no standardized indexes, and the data are considered unreliable. As the data get older, their reliability worsens.

In 1791, Congress chartered the First Bank of the United Statesmarker to handle the country's financial needs. The bank had some functions of a modern central bank, although it was responsible for only 20% of the young country's currency. In 1811 the bank's charter lapsed, but it was replaced by the Second Bank of the United Statesmarker, which lasted from 1816–36.

Name Dates Duration Time since previous recession Characteristics
Panic of 1797 17961796–1799 36~ years 72~6 years Just as a land speculation bubble was bursting, deflation from the Bank of Englandmarker (which was facing insolvency because of the cost of Great Britain's involvement in the French Revolutionary Wars) crossed to North America and disrupted commercial and real estate markets in the United States and the Caribbeanmarker, and caused a major financial panic. Prosperity continued in the south, but economic activity was stagnant in the north for three years. The young United States engaged in the Quasi-War with France.
1802–1804 recession 18021802–1804 24~2 years 36~3 years A boom of war-time activity led to a decline after the Peace of Amiens ended the war between the United Kingdom and France. Commodity prices fell dramatically. Trade was disrupted by pirates, leading to the First Barbary War.
Depression of 1807 18071807–1810 36~ years 36~3 years The Embargo Act of 1807 was passed by the United States Congress under President Thomas Jefferson as tensions increased with the United Kingdom. Along with trade restrictions imposed by the British, shipping-related industries were hard hit. The Federalists fought the embargo and allowed smuggling to take place in New Englandmarker. Trade volumes, commodity prices and securities prices all began to fall. Macon's Bill Number 2 ended the embargoes in May 1810, and a recovery started.
1812 recession 18121812 06~6 months 18~18 months The United States entered a brief recession at the beginning of 1812. The decline was brief primarily because the United States soon increased production to fight the War of 1812, which began June 18, 1812.
1815–21 depression 18151815–1821 72~ years 36~ years Shortly after the war ended on March 23, 1815, the United States entered a period of financial panic as bank notes rapidly depreciated because of inflation following the war. The 1815 panic was followed by several years of mild depression, and then a major financial crisis – the Panic of 1819, which featured widespread foreclosures, bank failures, unemployment, a collapse in real estate prices, and a slump in agriculture and manufacturing. The lengthy depression, if truly uninterrupted, was the longest in American history, although the NBER does not provide precise dating for this period.
1822–1823 recession 18221822–1823 12~1 year 12~1 year After only a mild recovery following the lengthy 1815–21 depression, commodity prices hit a peak in March 1822 and began to fall. Many businesses failed, unemployment rose and an increase in imports worsened the trade balance.
1825–1826 recession 18251825–1826 12~1 year 24~2 years The Panic of 1825, a stock crash following a bubble of speculative investments in Latin America led to a decline in business activity in the United States and England. The recession coincided with a major panic, the date of which may be more easily determined than general cycle changes associated with other recessions.
1828–1829 recession 18281828–1829 12~1 year 24~2 years In 1826 England forbid the United States to trade with English colonies and in 1827 the United States adopted a counter-prohibition. Trade declined, just as credit became tight for manufacturers in New England.
1833–34 recession 18331833–1834 12~1 year 48~4 years The United States' economy declined moderately in 1833–34. News accounts of the time confirm the slowdown. The subsequent expansion was driven by land speculation.

Free Banking Era to the Great Depression

In the 1830s, U.S. President Andrew Jackson fought to end the Second Bank of the United Statesmarker. Following the Bank War, the Second Bank lost its charter in 1836. From 1837 to 1862 there was no national presence in banking. In 1863, in response to financing pressures of the Civil War, Congress passed the National Banking Act, creating nationally chartered banks. There was neither a central bank nor deposit insurance during this era, and thus banking panics were common. Recessions often led to bank panics and financial crises, which in turn worsened the recession.

The dating of recessions during this period is controversial. Modern economic statistics, such as gross domestic product and unemployment, were not gathered during this period. Victor Zarnowitz evaluated a variety of indexes to measure the severity of these recessions. From 1834 to 1929, one measure of recessions is the Cleveland Trust Company index, which measured business activity and, beginning in 1882, an index of trade and industrial activity was available, which can be used to compare recessions.

Name Dates Duration Time since previous recession Business activity Trade and industrial activity Characteristics
Panic of 1837 18361836–1838 24~ years 24~ years 32.8−32.8% 00 A sharp downturn in the American economy was caused by bank failures and lack of confidence in the paper currency. Speculation markets were greatly affected when American banks stopped payment in specie (gold and silver coinage). Over 600 banks failed in this period. In the south the cotton market completely collapsed.
Depression of 1839–43 1839Late 1839 –

Late 1843
48~4 years 12~1 year 34.3−34.3% 00 This was one of the longest and deepest depressions. It was a period of pronounced deflation and massive default on debt. The Cleveland Trust Company Index showed the economy spent 68 months below its trend and only 9 months above it. The Index declined 34.3% during this depression.
1845–46 recession 18451845 –

Late 1846
12~1 year 24~2 years 05.9−5.9% 00 This recession was mild enough that it may have only been a slowdown in the growth cycle. One theory holds that this would have been a recession, except the United States began to gear up for the Mexican–American War which began April 25, 1846.
1847–48 recession 1847Late 1847 –

Late 1848
12~1 year 12~1 year 19.7−19.7% 00 The Cleveland Trust Company Index declined 19.7% during 1847 and 1848. It is associated with a financial crisis in Great Britain.
1853–54 recession 18531853 –

Dec 1854
12~1 year 60~5 years 18.4−18.4% 00 Interest rates rose in this period which contributed to a decrease in railroad investment. Security prices fell during this period. With the exception of falling business investment there is little evidence of contraction in this period.
Panic of 1857 1857June 1857 –

Dec 1858
181 year
6 months
302 years
6 months
23.1−23.1% 00 Failure of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company burst a European speculative bubble in United States' railroads and caused a loss of confidence in American banks. Over 5,000 businesses failed within the first year of the Panic, and unemployment was accompanied by protest meetings in urban areas. This is the earliest recession to which the NBER assigns specific months (rather than years) for the peak and trough.
1860–61 recession 1860 Oct 1860 –

June 1861
088 months 221 year
10 months
14.5−14.5% 00 There was a recession before the American Civil War, which began April 12, 1861. Zarnowitz says the data generally show a contraction occurred in this period, but it was quite mild. A financial panic was narrowly averted in 1860 by the first use of clearing house certificates between banks.
1865–67 recession 1865 April 1865 –

Dec 1867
322 years
8 months
463 years
10 months
23.8−23.8% 00 The American Civil War ended in April 1865 and the country entered a lengthy period of general deflation that lasted until 1896. The United States occasionally experienced periods of recession during the Reconstruction era. Production increased in the years following the Civil War, but the country still had financial difficulties. The post-war period coincided with a period of some international financial instability.
1869–70 recession 1869 June 1869 –

Dec 1870
181 year
6 months
181 year
6 months
09.7−9.7% 00 A few years after the Civil War, a short recession occurred. It was unusual since it came amid a period when railroad investment was greatly accelerating, even producing the First Transcontinental Railroad. The railroads built in this period opened up the interior of the country, giving birth to the Farmers' movement. The recession may be explained partly by ongoing financial difficulties following the war, which discouraged businesses from building up inventories. Several months into the recession there was a major financial panic.
Panic of 1873

and the

Long Depression
1873Oct 1873 –

Mar 1879
655 years
5 months
342 years
10 months
33.6−33.6% (−27.3%) 00 Economic problems in Europe prompted the failure of Jay Cooke & Company, the largest bank in the United States, which burst the post-Civil War speculative bubble. The Coinage Act of 1873 also contributed by immediately depressing the price of silver, which hurt North American mining interests. The deflation and wage cuts of the era led to labor turmoil, such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. In 1879, the United States returned to the gold standard with the Specie Payment Resumption Act. This is the longest period of economic contraction recognized by the NBER. The Long Depression is sometimes held to be the entire period from 1873–96.

1882–85 recession 1882 Mar 1882 –

May 1885
383 years
2 months
363 years 32.8−32.8% 24.6−24.6% Like the Long Depression that preceded it, the recession of 1882–85 was more of a price depression than a production depression. From 1879 to 1882 there had been a boom in railroad construction which came to an end, resulting in a decline in both railroad construction and in related industries, particularly iron and steel. A major economic event during the recession was the Panic of 1884.
1887–88 recession 1887 Mar 1887 –

April 1888
131 year
1 month
221 year
10 months
14.6−14.6% 08.2−8.2% Investments in railroads and buildings weakened during this period. This slowdown was so mild that it is not always considered a recession. Contemporary accounts apparently indicate it was considered a slight recession.
1890–91 recession 1890 July 1890 –

May 1891
1010 months 171 year
5 months
22.1−22.1% 11.7−11.7% Although shorter than the recession in 1887–88 and still modest, a slowdown in 1890–91 was somewhat more pronounced than the preceding recession. International monetary disturbances are blamed for this recession, such as the Panic of 1890 in the United Kingdom.
Panic of 1893 1893Jan 1893 –

June 1894
171 year
5 months
201 year
8 months
37.3−37.3% 29.7−29.7% Failure of the United States Reading Railroad and withdrawal of European investment led to a stock market and banking collapse. This Panic was also precipitated in part by a run on the gold supply. The Treasury had to issue bonds to purchase enough gold. Profits, investment and income all fell, leading to political instability, the height of the U.S. populist movement and the Free Silver movement.
Panic of 1896 1895 Dec 1895 –

June 1897
181 year
6 months
181 year
6 months
25.2−25.2% 20.8−20.8% The period of 1893–97 is seen as a generally depressed cycle that had a short spurt of growth in the middle, following the Panic of 1893. Production shrank and deflation reigned.
1899–1900 recession 1899 June 1899 –

Dec 1900
181 year
6 months
242 years 15.5−15.5% 08.8−8.8% This was a mild recession in the period of general growth beginning after 1897. Evidence for a recession in this period does not show up in some annual data series.
1902–04 recession 1902 Sep 1902 –

Aug 1904
231 year
11 months
211 year
9 months
16.2−16.2% 17.1−17.1% Though not severe, this downturn lasted for nearly two years and saw a distinct decline in the national product. Industrial and commercial production both declined, albeit fairly modestly. The recession came about a year after a 1901 stock crash.
Panic of 1907 1907May 1907 –

June 1908
131 year
1 month
332 years
9 months
29.2−29.2% 31.0−31.0% A run on Knickerbocker Trust Company deposits on October 22, 1907, set events in motion that would lead to a severe monetary contraction. The fallout from the panic led to Congress creating the Federal Reserve System.
Panic of 1910–1911 1910 Jan 1910 –

Jan 1912
242 years 191 year
7 months
14.7−14.7% 10.6−10.6% This was a mild but lengthy recession. The national product grew by less than 1%, and commercial activity and industrial activity declined. The period was also marked by deflation.
Recession of 1913–1914 1913 Jan 1913 –

Dec 1914
231 year
11 months
121 year 25.9−25.9% 19.8−19.8% Productions and real income declined during this period and were not offset until the start of World War I increased demand. Incidentally, the Federal Reserve Act was signed during this recession, creating the Federal Reserve System, the culmination of a sequence of events following the Panic of 1907.
Post-World War I recession 1918Aug 1918 –

March 1919
077 months 443 years
8 months
24.5−24.5% 14.1−14.1% Severe hyperinflation in Europe took place over production in North America. This was a brief but very sharp recession and was caused by the end of wartime production, along with an influx of labor from returning troops. This in turn caused high unemployment.
Depression of 1920–21 1920 Jan 1920 –

July 1921
181 year
6 months
1010 months 38.1−38.1% 32.7−32.7% The 1921 recession began a mere 10 months after the post-World War I recession, as the economy continued working through the shift to a peacetime economy. The recession was short but extremely painful. The year 1920 was the single most deflationary year in American History; production, however, did not fall as much as might be expected from the deflation. GNP may have declined between 2.5 and 7 percent, even as wholesale prices declined by 36.8%. The economy had a strong recovery following the recession.
1923–24 recession 1923 May 1923 –

June 1924
141 year
2 months
242 years 25.4−25.4% 22.7−22.7% From the depression of 1920–21 until the Great Depression, an era dubbed the Roaring Twenties, the economy was generally expanding. Industrial production declined in 1923–24, but on the whole this was a mild recession.
1926–27 recession 1926 Oct 1926 –

Nov 1927
131 year
1 month
272 years
3 months
12.2−12.2% 10.0−10.0% This was an unusual and mild recession, thought to be caused largely because Henry Ford closed production in his factories for six months to switch from production of the Model T to the Model A. Charles P. Kindleberger says the period from 1925 to the start of the Great Depression is best thought of as a boom, and this minor recession just proof that the boom "was not general, uninterrupted or extensive".

Great Depression onwards

Following the end of World War II and the large adjustment as the economy adjusted from wartime to peacetime in 1945, the collection of many economic indicators, such as unemployment and GDP became standardized. Recessions after World War II may be compared to each other much more easily than previous recessions because of this available data. The listed dates and durations are from the official chronology of the National Bureau of Economic Research. GDP data is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, unemployment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (after 1948). Note that the unemployment rate often reaches a peak associated with a recession after the recession has officially ended.

Annualized GDP change from 1923 to 2009.
Data is annual from 1923 to 1946 and quarterly from 1947 to the second quarter of 2009.
No recession of the post-World War II era has come anywhere near the depth of the Great Depression. In the Great Depression GDP fell by 27% (the deepest after demobilization is the recession beginning in December 2007, during which GDP has fallen 3.9% as of the second quarter of 2009) and unemployment reached 25% (the highest since was the 10.8% rate reached during the 1981–82 recession).

The National Bureau of Economic Research dates recessions on a monthly basis back to 1854; according to their chronology, from 1854 to 1919, there were 16 cycles. The average recession lasted 22 months, and the average expansion 27. From 1919 to 1945, there were 6 cycles; recessions lasted an average 18 months and expansions for 35. From 1945 to 2001, and 10 cycles, recessions lasted an average 10 months and expansions an average of 57 months. This has prompted some economists to declare that the business cycle has become less severe. Changes like the creation of a central bank and lender of last resort, like the Federal Reserve System in 1913, and the establishment of deposit insurance in the form of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933, are factors that may have contributed to this moderation.

Name Dates Duration (months) Time since previous recession (months) Peak unemploy-
GDP decline (peak to trough) Characteristics
Great Depression 1929Aug 1929 –

Mar 1933
433 years
7 months
0211 year
9 months

26.7−26.7% Stock markets crashed worldwide. A banking collapse took place in the United States. Extensive new tariffs and other factors contributed to an extremely deep depression. Although sometimes dated as lasting until World War II, the U.S. economy was growing again by 1933, and technically the United States was not in recession from 1933 to 1937.
Recession of 1937 1937May 1937 –

June 1938
131 year
1 month
0504 years
2 months

03.4−3.4% The Recession of 1937 is only considered minor when compared to the Great Depression, but is otherwise among the worst recessions of the 20th century. Three explanations are offered for the recession: that tight fiscal policy from an attempt to balance the budget after the expansion of the New Deal caused recession, that tight monetary policy from the Federal Reserve caused the recession, or that declining profits for businesses led to a reduction in investment.
Recession of 1945 1945Feb–Oct 1945 088 months 0806 years
8 months

12.7−12.7% The decline in government spending at the end of World War II led to an enormous drop in gross domestic product making this technically a recession. This was the result of demobilization and the shift from a wartime to peacetime economy. The post-war years were unusual in a number of ways (unemployment was never high) and this era may be considered a "sui generis end-of-the-war recession".
Recession of 1949 1948Nov 1948 –

Oct 1949
1111 months 0373 years
1 month

(Oct 1949)
01.7−1.7% The 1948 recession was a brief economic downturn; forecasters of the time expected much worse, perhaps influenced by the poor economy in their recent lifetime. The recession began shortly after President Truman's "Fair Deal" economic reforms. The recession also followed a period of monetary tightening.
Recession of 1953 1953July 1953 –

May 1954
1010 months 0453 years
9 months

(Sep 1954)
02.6−2.6% After a post-Korean War inflationary period, more funds were transferred to national security. In 1951, the Federal Reserve reasserted its independence from the U.S. Treasury and in 1952, the Federal Reserve changed monetary policy to be more restrictive because of fears of further inflation or of a bubble forming.
Recession of 1958 1957Aug 1957 –

April 1958
088 months 0393 years
3 months

(July 1958)
03.1−3.1% Monetary policy was tightened during the two years preceding 1957, followed by an easing of policy at the end of 1957. The budget balance resulted in a change in budget surplus of 0.8% of GDP in 1957 to a budget deficit of 0.6% of GDP in 1958, and then to 2.6% of GDP in 1959.
Recession of 1960–61 1960Apr 1960 –

Feb 1961
1010 months 0242 years 07.17.1%

(May 1961)
01.6−1.6% Another primarily monetary recession occurred after the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates in 1959. The government switched from deficit (or 2.6% in 1959) to surplus (of 0.1% in 1960). When the economy emerged from this short recession it began the second longest period of growth in NBER history.
Recession of 1969–70 1969Dec 1969 –

Nov 1970
1111 months 1068 years
10 months
06.1 6.1%

(Dec 1970)
00.6−0.6% The relatively mild 1969 recession followed a lengthy expansion. At the end of the expansion inflation was rising, possibly a result of increased deficits. This relatively mild recession coincided with an attempt to start closing the budget deficits of the Vietnam War (fiscal tightening) and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates (monetary tightening).
1973–75 recession 1973Nov 1973 –

Mar 1975
161 year
4 months
0363 years 09.0 9.0%

(May 1975)
03.2−3.2% A quadrupling of oil prices by OPEC coupled with high government spending because of the Vietnam War led to stagflation in the United States. The period was also marked by the 1973 oil crisis and the 1973–1974 stock market crash. The period is remarkable for rising unemployment coinciding with rising inflation.
1980 recession 1980Jan–July 1980 066 months 0584 years
10 months
07.8 7.8%

(July 1980)
02.2−2.2% The NBER considers a short recession to have occurred in 1980, followed by a short period of growth and then a deep recession. Unemployment remained relatively elevated in between recessions. The recession began as the Federal Reserve, under Paul Volcker raised interest rates dramatically to fight the inflation of the 1970s. The early '80s are sometimes referred to as a "double-dip" or "W-shaped" recession.
Early 1980s recession 1981July 1981 –

Nov 1982
161 year
4 months
0121 year 10.8 10.8%

(Nov 1982)
02.7−2.7% The Iranian Revolution sharply increased the price of oil around the world in 1979, causing the 1979 energy crisis. This was caused by the new regime in power in Iranmarker, which exported oil at inconsistent intervals and at a lower volume, forcing prices up. Tight monetary policy in the United States to control inflation led to another recession. The changes were made largely because of inflation carried over from the previous decade because of the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis.
Early 1990s recession 1990July 1990 –

Mar 1991
088 months 0927 years
8 months
07.8 7.8%

(June 1992)
01.4−1.4% After the lengthy peacetime expansion of the 1980s, inflation began to increase and the Federal Reserve responded by raising interest rates from 1986 to 1989. This weakened but did not stop growth, but some combination of the subsequent 1990 oil price shock, the debt accumulation of the 1980s, new banking regulations following the S&L Crisis and growing consumer pessimism combined with the weakened economy to produce a brief recession.
Early 2000s recession 2001Mar–Nov 2001 088 months 12010 years 06.3 6.3%

(June 2003)
00.3−0.3% The 1990s were the longest period of growth in American history. The collapse of the speculative dot-com bubble, a fall in business outlays and investments, and the September 11th attacks, brought the decade of growth to an end. Despite these major shocks, the recession was brief and shallow. Without the September 11th attacks, the economy may have avoided recession altogether.
Late 2000s recession 2007Dec 2007 –

18TBD 0736 years
1 month

(Nov 2009)
03.9−3.9% The subprime mortgage crisis led to the collapse of the United States housing bubble. Falling housing-related assets contributed to a global financial crisis, even as oil and food prices soared. The crisis led to the failure or collapse of many of the United States' largest financial institutions: Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG, as well as a crisis in the automobile industry. The government responded with an unprecedented $700 billion bank bailout and $787 billion fiscal stimulus package. By July 2009, a growing number of economists believed that the recession may have ended. This view was bolstered with the initial estimate of a 3.5% rise in the GDP (Q3 09). As is often the case at the end of a recession, unemployment is still rising. The National Bureau of Economic Research will not make this official determination for some time.

See also




  1. in
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  4. in
  5. in
  6. in
  7. in
  8. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved on September 19, 2009
  9. in
  10. The Business-Cycle Peak of March 2001, National Bureau of Economic Research
  11. " The Business-Cycle Peak of March 2001", National Bureau of Economic Research, November 26, 2001. Retrieved on October 5, 2009
  12. 2003 Business Cycle Dating Committee, July 2003, National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved on October 5, 2009.

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