The recession that began in February 2020 as a result of the COVID pandemic officially ended in April 2020, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonpartisan organization.

That makes the two-month COVID recession the shortest in U.S. history, and by a wide margin.

The second shortest – only six months – occurred in 1980. By comparison, the so-called Great Recession of 2008 lasted for 18 months, and the country did not recover from the 1929 Great Depression until 1933, 43 months later. The average length of the 33 recessions since the 1850s was 17 months.

Is there a reason the COVID recession was so short, and could that be the beginning of a trend to shorter recessions in the future?

I’m speculating somewhat because the data is quite sparse. But there is a possible correlation between the amount the federal government is willing to spend to prop up the economy during a recession and the recession’s length.

Last year the U.S. plowed more than $2.5 trillion into keeping businesses and families afloat, and the result was a severe but quite abbreviated GDP and stock market decline. Data from the St. Louis Fed suggests that the federal government’s financial support programs after the 2008 recession totaled approximately $1.8 trillion in today’s dollars, with the subsequent 18-month downturn the result. During the Great Depression, according to Bond Capital, the total government stimulus amounted to only roughly $800 billion, and a nearly four-year recession was the outcome.

It could be argued that a massive and rapid injection of capital by the federal government does have some beneficially limiting effect on economic downturns.

As a side note, the 1929 depression was not the longest in U.S. history. That distinction goes to the panic of 1873, caused primarily by rampant speculation in the hot new technology of the time – railroads. That economic downturn lasted from October 1873 through March 1879, during which time there were at least 100 bank failures. Be glad you weren’t around then.

We still don’t know the longer-term consequences of the additional trillions of dollars of debt the U.S. has accumulated during these downturns. Some economists fear another extended period of rampant inflation, while others view it as simply replacing lost productivity (that is, no major impact).

In any case, given the apparent success of economic stimulus programs during times of economic stress, it’s unlikely that politicians from either major party would risk doing nothing after the next recession-triggering event occurs. In other words, there’s reason for hope that the length of future economic downturns could be shortened.

Los Altos resident Artie Green is a Certified Financial Planner and founder of Cognizant Wealth Advisors. For more information, visit