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In an article on September 1, 2002, New York Times reporter David Leonhardt used the term anxious index to refer to the probability of a decline in real GDP, as reported in the Survey of Professional Forecasters. The survey asks panelists to estimate the probability that real GDP will decline in the quarter in which the survey is taken and in each of the following four quarters. The anxious index is the probability of a decline in real GDP in the quarter after a survey is taken. For example, in the survey taken in the first quarter of 2019, the anxious index is 11.2 percent, which means that forecasters believe there is a 11.2 percent chance that real GDP will decline in the second quarter of 2019.
The accompanying chart illustrates the movements of the anxious index over time, beginning in the fourth quarter of 1968. The index often goes up just before recessions begin. For example, the first quarter survey of 2001 (taken in February) reported a 32 percent anxious index; the National Bureau of Economic Research subsequently declared the start of a recession in March 2001. The anxious index peaks during recessions, then declines when recovery seems near. For example, the index fell to 14 percent in the second quarter of 2002, when economic indicators began improving.
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