The US was officially classed as an economy in recession after its last peak in December 2007 (NBER) after which it had two consecutive quarters of negative growth. A recession as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research is
A significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in production, employment, real income, and other indicators. A recession begins when the economy reaches a peak of activity and ends when the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion.
Anyway to cut a long story short, they identified the last peak of the US economy as December 2007 after a significant period of decline followed it which was sufficient enought to be identified as a time of recession.
Taking the generally accepted definition of a recession i.e. 'a recession is indicated by two consecutive quarters of negative/a decline in real GDP' we can deduce that for the recession to stop and for growth to start the GDP should pick up.
The GDP of an economy is measured as follows
GDP = Consumer spending + Investments + Government spending + (Exports - Imports)
or GDP = C + I + G + (X - M)
Now according to this BBC report the The American Bankers Association's Economic Advisory Committee thinks the US economy is set to grow in the third quarter of 2009. Im sure this is good news all around as a recovery in the US economy will probably mean eventual growth for other nations as well.
But is it really going to be a sustained growth?
Opinions of different schools of economic thought vary on the best option to handle a recession. The end of the Great Depression of the 1930s is credited to the policy ideas of John Maynard Keynes who suggested increasing government spending as a method of boosting production. In practice, this can even involve activities metaphorically akin to the famous paying-people-to-dig-holes-and-fill-them-up-again scenario.
But some are of the opinion that the massive government spending of the second World War is what ultimately brought the world out of the depression, leading to uncomfortable thoughts on the current global economy and political environment.
Monetary economists advocate the use of expansionary monetary policy by reducing interest rates to stimulate borrowing and thereby increasing spending power and eventually consumer spending. The Supply-side economists advocate tax cuts to promote business capital investment.
The general consensus among most economists is that a recession is a problem born of a drop in aggregate demand (meaning the total demand for goods and services within an economy). Therefore, as we can see, theoretical suggestions are mainly directed at stimulating at least one area of an economy that would contribute to a pick up in GDP.
The US's new forecast of a growth of 0.5% seems largely due to an increase in consumer spending which can possibly be attributed to the drastic reduction we have seen in the US's interest rates over the past few months. Also, government spending on dying corporates and banks caused still more money to be injected into the system and would have boosted produtivity somehow, somwhere.
However, unemployment is set to increase to 10% and the overall outlook of employement does not look too good for the next year and a half or so although the increase in consumer spending (which two thirds of the the US economy is driven by), is hoped to temper this.
But there are still deeper problems. According to the BBC the damage caused to the Public Finances and the Labor markets are still substantial and industrial production has fallen more than analysts expected.
There is also the problem of the US's growing trade deficit, which is not helping.
Therefore there are mixed signals on the status of this 'recovery'. It could be the beginning of a slow climb back to the top or it could just be a random spurt of growth brought on by arbitrary circumstances. We should hope for the former.