It's the question du jour: Is the United States heading for, or already in, a recession? But that raises another question: Just what makes...

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It’s the question du jour: Is the United States heading for, or already in, a recession? But that raises another question: Just what makes a recession, anyway?

One frequently cited rule of thumb says two consecutive quarters of shrinkage in gross domestic product constitutes a recession. But the National Bureau of Economic Research, which formally dates recessions, has a more subjective standard.

The NBER defines a recession as the period from the peak of a business cycle to the trough, characterized by a “significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months.” By that standard, the last recession ran from March to November 2001.

— Drew DeSilver, Seattle Times business reporter