Who decides when we are in a recession? : Planet Money Whenever the economic data start to look rough, we're forced to confront a familiar question: Are we in a recession, or about to be? But there are actually only eight opinions in the country that officially matter. Today on the show, we meet the committee that calls recessions. | Subscribe to Planet Money+ in Apple Podcasts or at plus.npr.org/planetmoney.

Recession referees

Recession referees

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Mario Tama/Getty Images
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 01: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange moments before the closing bell December 1, 2008 in New York City.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

When GDP growth slows, we are confronted with a familiar question: Are we headed for a recession? Are we maybe in one already?

The colloquial definition of a recession may make it seem clear-cut: two consecutive quarters of declining GDP. But according to the actual committee members who make the call, that's not quite right.

In this episode, we talk to the official committee — the National Bureau of Economic Research's Business Cycle Dating Committee — who look at economic data to decide when we're in a recession, and when the recession is over. And we had questions! Find out what snacks keep them going through their meetings. And what economic indicators they look at, why they take so long to make the call, and what their work can teach us about our strange present economic situation.

Music: "Soul Sitar," "Vision" and "Head Nod"

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