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Recessions, like unhappy families, are each painful in their own way.

And the next one — which economists see as increasingly possible by the end of next year — will probably bear that out. A US downturn may well be modest, but it might also be long.

Many observers expect any decline to be a lot less wrenching than the 2007-09 Great Financial Crisis and the back-to-back downturns seen in the 1980s, when inflation was last this high. The economy is simply not as far out of whack as it was in those earlier periods, they say.

While the recession may be moderate, it could end up lasting longer than the abbreviated, eight-month contractions of 1990-91 and 2001. That’s because elevated inflation may hold the Federal Reserve back from rushing to reverse the downturn.

“The good news is there’s a limit to how severe it’s going to be,” said Nomura Securities senior US economist Robert Dent. “The bad news is it’s going to be prolonged.” The former New York Fed analyst sees a roughly 2% contraction that begins in the fourth quarter and lasts through next year.

No matter what shape the pullback takes, one thing seems certain: There will be a lot of hurt when it comes. In the dozen recessions since World War II, on average the economy contracted by 2.5%, unemployment rose about 3.8 percentage points and corporate profits fell some 15%. The average length was 10 months.

Even a downturn on the shallower end of the spectrum would likely see hundreds of thousands of Americans — at least — lose their jobs. The battered stock market may suffer a further fall as earnings drop. And President Joe Biden’s already poor poll ratings could take another hit.

“This would be the sixth or seventh recession, I think, since I started doing this,” private-equity veteran Scott Sperling said. “Every one of them is somewhat different, and every one of them feels equally painful.”

Signs of economic weakness are multiplying, with personal spending falling in May for the first time this year, after accounting for inflation, and a US manufacturing gauge hitting a two-year low in June. JPMorgan Chase & Co. chief US economist Michael Feroli responded to the latest data by cutting his mid-year growth forecasts “perilously close to a recession.”

The depth and length of the recession will largely be determined by how persistent inflation proves to be, and by how much pain the Fed is willing to inflict on the economy to bring it down to levels it deems acceptable.

Allianz SE chief economic adviser Mohamed El-Erian said he’s worried about a stop-go scenario akin to the 1970s, where the Fed prematurely eases policy in response to economic weakness before it has eradicated inflation from the system.

Such a strategy would set the stage for a deeper economic decline down the road, and even greater inequality, the Bloomberg Opinion columnist said. El-Erian was out front in warning last year the Fed was making a big blunder by playing down the inflationary threat.

What Bloomberg Economics Says…

“The Fed is not going to pause until they see that inflation has convincingly come down. That means that this Fed will be hiking well into economic weakness, likely prolonging the duration of the recession.”

— Anna Wong, chief US economist

For his part, Fed Chair Jerome Powell has argued that while there’s a risk of a recession, the economy is still in good enough shape to withstand the Fed’s interest-rate hikes and dodge a downturn.

A growing number of private economists aren’t convinced.

“A faltering economy is all but inevitable,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist for Stifel Nicolaus & Co. “The question has moved beyond if we are going to see a recession to what’s the depth and duration of a downturn.”

Just as happened some 40 years ago, the decline in gross domestic product will be driven by a central bank determined to rein in runaway consumer prices. The Fed’s favorite inflation gauge is more than triple its 2% objective.

But there are good reasons to expect the outcome won’t be nearly as bad as the early 1980s, or the 2007-09 financial crisis — episodes when unemployment soared to double-digit levels.

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