The Bush Recession(s) UPDATED

Two recessions occurred on George W. Bush’s watch, the current one (that began in December 2007) being of catastrophic proportions. Here are the facts…

When it comes to measuring and dating U.S. business cycles, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is the gold standard. Founded in 1920 and headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization tracks economic expansions and contractions (recessions), where contractions start at the peak of a business cycle and end at the trough.

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 GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.” NBER uses multiple indicators, rather than any single measurement of activity.

Let’s look at some data from the Reagan era as an example. According to NBER researchers, an economic peak occurred in July 1981 signaling the start of a recession that lasted for 16 months until a November 1982 trough. That’s all there is to it.

Now let’s fast-forward to recent history. Three peaks have occurred since the 1982 trough, in:

  • July 1990 (after 92 months of expansion) and the contraction lasted for 8 months;
  • March 2001 (after 120 months of expansion) and it too lasted for 8 months;
  • December 2007 (after 73 months of expansion). At this writing, we don’t know how long it will last.

What do these three recessions have in common? They all occurred under a Bush, the first under George H.W. and the second and third under George W.

What makes this data worthy of a BushToll nugget is President Bush’s and Vice President Cheney’s insistence as far back as 2002 that they inherited a recession from Bill Clinton. Not only is this false (Clinton’s eight-year term in office saw uninterrupted economic expansion), it’s become irrelevant in light of the current recession and economic collapse.


On 9/20/2010, the NBER announced that “the U.S. economy reached a trough in June 2009, making the 18-month recession that began in December 2007 the longest in the post-war period.”


“U.S. Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions,” NBER

Determination of the December 2007 Peak in Economic Activity, Business Cycle Dating Committee, NBER

Bush Says He Inherited Recession, CNNMoney, August 7, 2002, by Mark Gongloff

3 thoughts on “The Bush Recession(s) UPDATED”

  1. Let us also remember that the NBER membership 1n 2001 stated that the recession started in Mar. of 2001. After Bush took office another NBER Board stated that the recession started in Mar. of 2000. Remember the Bush statement that he “could not think of anything he did wrong”? Whenever he found something that he might be held responsible for, he just had the new board change the date.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t aware of the Bush Administration’s attempt to politicize the NBER, although it doesn’t surprise me. A Google search provides links to several article that discuss how one NBER board member attempted to contradict the earlier NBER report, an attempt that was disavowed by NBER. If at some point NBER decides to revise (officially) its recession finding, I will update my article.

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