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Prior to 1979, there were no formal announcements of business cycle turning points.
The NBER does not define a recession in terms of two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. Rather, a recession is 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. For more information, see the latest announcement from the NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee, dated 9/20/10.
A growth recession is a recurring period of slow growth in total output, income, employment, and trade, usually lasting a year or more. A growth recession may encompass a recession, in which case the slowdown usually begins before the recession starts, but ends at about the same time. Slowdowns also may occur without recession, in which case the economy continues to grow, but at a pace significantly below its long-run growth
A depression is a recession that is major in both scale and duration. Further discussion of these concepts can be found in the NBER book, Business Cycles, Inflation and Forecasting , 2nd edition, by Geoffrey H. Moore, 1983, Ballinger Publishing Co., Cambridge, MA.