The U.S. economy has a 50 percent chance of falling into a depression during the next three years, said Roger Farmer, a member of the National...

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The U.S. economy has a 50 percent chance of falling into a depression during the next three years, said Roger Farmer, a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s economic fluctuations and growth program.

“There’s a significant probability things will get worse,” Farmer, 53, said Friday. “We’re certainly not at the end of the recession and things are getting worse.”

A drop in the Conference Board’s index of leading indicators, released Thursday, underscores economists’ expectations that the recession will be the longest in the postwar era as banks restrict credit, home and stock values plunge, and job losses mount. Farmer said he is predicting the U.S. recession will last at least another year.

“Everything depends on business confidence, and what I see is declining confidence,” Farmer said. That loss of confidence is leading households and companies to undervalue assets, which in turn is hurting consumer spending and investment, he said.

Farmer’s views the likelihood of a U.S. depression contrast with those of other economists, such as New York University professor Nouriel Roubini, who said last week that he sees a severe recession and not a depression.

The NBER’s economic fluctuations program focuses on the U.S. economy, and includes the Business Dating Committee, which officially marks the beginning and end of recessions and expansions.