July 2019 marked the 121st month of the economic expansion that began after the Great Recession. That makes it the longest expansion in American history, surpassing the 10-year expansion of 1991-2001.
But wait. The yield curve has inverted. Recreational vehicle sales are down. The “R-word,” recession, is trending on Twitter. Are we in recession already? Did our expansion fall short of the record? How do we know when expansions end and recessions start?
We know, because the National Bureau of Economic Research tells us. The NBER is an economic research organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it’s the go-to arbiter of business cycle dates. Their business cycle dating committee marked the first month of the Great Recession as January 2008. They marked the first month of our long expansion as July 2009. You can find the NBER online at www.nber.org.
The NBER is a research organization, not a forecasting group. They are very careful in marking the peaks and troughs of the economy. Even if a recession has started, they’ll watch the data for many months to make sure. They didn’t announce the January 2008 Great Recession date until December 2008. The media had great fun writing headlines like “this just in: recession started last year.”