WASHINGTON – Most mainstream economists think the nation’s deep recession is over, but a special body that makes such a determination took a pass Monday, saying what many Americans intuitively feel — the data remain inconclusive.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit group of economists, determines when recessions start and end as part of its work in calculating the peaks and troughs of the business cycle. The bureau’s Business Cycle Dating Committee met last Friday and concluded that the jury is still out on the recession’s end. The panel announced that decision on its Web site Monday.

The committee reaffirmed that the recession began in December 2007, but its seven members couldn’t determine whether the recession has ended.

One reason for a cautious view is the stubbornly high jobless rate. Unemployment remains anchored in the ballpark of 9.7 percent. March employment numbers finally showed a solid gain of around 162,000 jobs, partly aided by government hiring to conduct the 2010 Census.

Although economic expansion usually is marked by two consecutive quarters of growth, the committee wants to see more evidence of strong and consistent job growth as an indicator that businesses are hiring on the basis of a firming economy.

“We will be ready to assign a particular month to the date of the trough when data revisions have settled down and the expansion has continued to the point where a sudden reversal would constitute a new recession and not a continuation of the one that started in December 2007,” said Robert Hall, a Stanford University economist and the chairman of the bureau’s committee. “If current forecasts hold, that time will come in a matter of months.”

A full 16.9 percent of the work force is either jobless, working part time because full-time work isn’t available, or wants to work but hasn’t looked in the past month due to bleak conditions.

“The question is, are businesses going to feel confident enough that they think the recovery is firmly in place and therefore they’re going to want to hire? And will they have access to credit to do so?” asked Gus Faucher of Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, Pa.


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