Jul 28, 2022 - Economy

Yellen: We should avoid recession "semantic battle"

Photo: Chung Sung-Jun via Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Thursday that a semantics debate over whether or not the U.S. economy is in a recession should be avoided as households grapple with inflation and high gas prices.

Why it matters: In recent days, Biden administration officials have gone to great lengths to stress that the nation has not entered a recession — an argument complicated by back-to-back quarters of negative growth, a common (but unofficial) rule of thumb for a recession.

  • But the debate may be moot for everyday Americans pinched by decades-high inflation, who might not care either way whether it's officially a recession or not.

What she's saying: "We should avoid a semantic battle," Yellen said at a press conference. "What we can constructively do is talk about, 'what is the state of the economy?'"

  • Yellen said that people sometimes use the word recession to refer to "bad inflation," noting that household discomfort doesn't stem from the labor market, which so far, has remained solid.
  • Still Yellen emphasized that the economy may be slowing but not in a way that's consistent with a recession, noting that would call for a "broad-based weakening of the economy."
  • "That's not what we're seeing right now," Yellen said.

The big picture: Yellen pointed out the economy's contraction in the second quarter was driven by a change in business inventories, a volatile component of GDP that knocked more than 2 percentage points off headline growth.

  • The report also showed a slowdown in consumer spending, housing and business investment.
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