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Okun’s Law over the Business Cycle: Was the Great Recession All That Different?

In 1962, Arthur Okun posited an empirical relationship between the change in the unemployment rate and real output growth. Since then, the media, policymakers, pundits, and intermediate macro students have used the so-called Okun’s law as a rule of thumb to relate changes in unemployment to changes in output growth. However, some studies have suggested that the relationship has not been stable over time. Furthermore, the slow recovery of U.S. unemployment relative to output after the Great Recession has led some to question whether Okun’s law has changed permanently. In this light, the authors reconsider the evidence on instability in Okun’s law and, in particular, examine whether the Great Recession has contributed to the breakdown of the empirical relationship.

Calculations for the difference and dynamic specifications using the civilian unemployment rate inadvertently included nominal rather than real GDP, as indicated. (The gap specification was unaffected.) As a result, the article was printed with errors in Figures 2a, 3, and 6 and Tables 1 (top and bottom rows), 2, and 5. The article online contains the correct versions of the figures and tables. We apologize for any inconvenience.

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