The current economic expansion in the United States is the seventh longest in the last 160 years. At the end of the month, provided the economy is not currently in a recession, the economy will have been growing for four and a half years. The last recession ended in June 2009.
Despite the long duration of the current expansion, previous growth periods in U.S. history were typically more robust. The chart below illustrates that annual, inflation adjusted growth has been in the mid two percent range for the past few years. Prior to this, expansions tended to stronger.
Before to the 1960s, it was common for recessions to break up growth streaks with some frequency. From 1854 to 1960 there was only one uninterrupted period of continuous economic growth that lasted more than five years (July 1938 to February 1945). Over this one hundred year period the U.S. economy would yo-yo in and out of recessions.
The length of time that an economy spends expanding is only part of the economic story. The depth of the previous recession and strength of the eventual recovery both provide a clearer picture of the health of the economy. During the last recession the economy shrank more than it had in over 70 years. From that low point the recovery has not been particularly strong but because there has not been another set back the economy, over time, economic conditions have been slowly been able to make up for lost ground.
Data Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and U.S. Department of Commerce: Bureau of Economic Analysis