Pandemic Economy Topical Guide

To help with coverage of the economic effects of the coronavirus and business closures, The Associated Press has compiled an editorial style guide of essential terms, spellings and definitions:

bear market

A period of generally declining stock prices over a prolonged period, generally defined as a drop of at least 20% for a broad stock index like the S&P 500. A bear market typically lasts more than a year, but the most recent one took only about a month to run its course. The S&P 500 fell 33.9% from a peak on Feb. 19, 2020, on worries about the coronavirus, before it hit a bottom on March 23, 2020. The average bear market since 1929 has lasted 19.6 months and seen a drop of 39.4% for the S&P 500, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

bull market

A period of generally rising stock prices over a prolonged period, generally defined as a gain of at least 20% in broad stock indexes such as the S&P 500. The current bull market began in March 2020, when stocks began recovering from the steep decline caused by worries about the coronavirus pandemic. The average bull market since 1932 has lasted 131.4 months and seen the S&P 500 climb 400.5%, not including the current one.

coronavirus relief packages

A $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill approved in March 2021 provides direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans and extended emergency unemployment benefits. The measure includes funds for COVID-19 vaccines and testing; state, city and tribal governments; and schools and ailing industries. There also are tax breaks to help lower-earning people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance.

Taken together, provisions in the 628-page bill add up to one of the largest enhancements to the social safety net in decades. Besides stopping the pandemic and jumpstarting hiring, money in the rescue package is supposed to start fixing income inequality, halve child poverty, feed the hungry, save pensions, sustain public transit, let schools reopen with confidence, and help repair state and local government finances.

The package is called the American Rescue Plan. Limit use of the term.

The measure follows five earlier virus bills totaling about $4 trillion that Congress has enacted since last spring.The first, a $2.2 trillion package passed in March 2020, is sometimes referred to as the CARES Act, short for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Do not refer to any of these as a stimulus, a stimulus package, etc. The measures have been intended to replace money lost in the collapse of the economy, rather than to stimulate demand. But the current bill has elements that will spend money years into the future. Descriptions of the package can include, for example: The bill contains elements intended to stimulate faster growth over the long term. correction

A correction happens when the price of a stock, bond or other investments drops 10% from a recent peak, but ultimately recovers before dropping below the 20% threshold that would signify a bear market. Most market watchers wait until the market has closed for the day before declaring that an index or other measure has officially entered a correction. Corrections are common during bull markets, and are considered normal and even healthy. They allow markets to remove speculative froth after a big run-up. During the nearly 11-year-long bull market from 2009 into 2020, the S&P 500 had five corrections. Two of those occurred in the same year, 2018.


While there's no standard definition, a crash can be a sudden, dramatic decline in the stock, bond or commodities prices, as in 1987. A crash can also occur over a longer period, with a succession of sharp declines, as in the market crash of 1929. Market declines in crashes are faster and deeper than in corrections. In spring of 2020 the price of oil crashed as the virus pandemic sapped demand and producers failed to sufficiently rein in production, leading to an oversupply of crude.

dead cat bounce

A temporary recovery in share prices after a substantial fall, caused by speculators buying in order to cover their positions.

Dow Jones Industrial Average

The market indicator comprises 30 leading U.S. stocks. The average is calculated and published by S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, which is jointly owned by S&P Global Inc. and CME Group Inc. The average is maintained by S&P Dow Jones Indices' averages committee, comprising representatives of S&P Dow Jones Indices and The Wall Street Journal. Always use the full name on first reference in stories. On subsequent references, use the Dow. The Dow is also acceptable in summaries and headlines.


Use a hyphen in all e- words except email and esports: e-book, e-reader, e-commerce.

food bank

furlough versus layoff (n.), lay off (v.)

When workers are furloughed, they are let go by an employer but are considered on a leave of absence and sometimes remain eligible for benefits such as health insurance. Employees who are laid off are considered permanently let go. Both categories of workers are eligible for unemployment benefits. Hyphenate as a modifier: laid-off workers.

gross domestic product

A common measure of economic growth, reflecting the total value of goods and services produced in a country. Economists often refer to the GDP. Spell it out on first reference and define it in the story for clarity.

National Bureau of Economic Research

A nonprofit research organization. Its Business Cycle Dating Committee monitors the U.S. business cycle for economic activity to officially declare the start and end of recessions and expansions after the fact, based on economic data. That means there is not an official declaration of recession while it is happening.

Nasdaq composite

A major U.S. stock index, often referred to in conjunction with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index. The Nasdaq composite is an index of all the stocks listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market. On second reference: the Nasdaq.


Paycheck Protection Program

Small business loans administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration as part of the federal coronavirus rescue plan. The SBA says that as of April 4, 2021, the program had issued around 9.1 million loans totaling nearly $746 billion. Do not use the shorthand PPP.

percent, percentage, percentage points

Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases: The S&P 500 future contract was down 3.2% and the future for the Dow dropped 3.3%.

In casual uses, use words rather than figures and numbers: She said he has a zero percent chance of winning.

At the start of a sentence: Try to avoid this construction. If it's necessary to start a sentence with a percentage, spell out both: Eighty-nine percent of sentences don't have to begin with a number.

Constructions with the % sign take a singular verb when standing alone or when a singular word follows an of construction: The teacher said 60% was a failing grade. He said 50% of the membership was there.

It takes a plural verb when a plural word follows an of construction: He said 50% of the members were there.

Use decimals, not fractions, in percentages: Her mortgage rate is 4.5%.

For a range, 12% to 15%, 12%-15% and between 12% and 15% are all acceptable.

Use percentage, rather than percent, when not paired with a number: The percentage of people agreeing is small.

Be careful not to confuse percent with percentage point. A change from 10% to 13% is a rise of 3 percentage points. This is not equal to a 3% change; rather, it's a 30% increase.

Usage: Republicans passed a 0.25 percentage point tax cut. Not: Republicans passed a 0.25 percentage points tax cut or Republicans passed a tax cut of 0.25 of a percentage point.

pickup (n. and adj.) pick up (v.)

prime rate

A benchmark rate used by banks to set interest charges on a variety of corporate and consumer loans, including some adjustable home mortgages, revolving credit cards and business loans extended to their most creditworthy customers. Banks almost always raise or lower their rates by a similar amount on the same day Federal Reserve policymakers change their target for overnight loans between banks, known as the federal funds rate.


recession, depression

A recession is a falling-off of economic activity that may be a temporary phenomenon or could continue into a depression. A common definition is two straight quarters of economic contraction. A more official determination is made by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which considers a range of indicators in declaring a recession. The bureau's determination is typically made well after a recession has begun and sometimes after it has ended.

There is no agreed-upon definition of a depression. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployment peaked at 25% and the stock market lost 90% of its value from boom to bust. Today, there are safeguards in place that didn't exist in the 1930s: deposit insurance, unemployment benefits and the ability of the government to spend trillions of dollars to bolster the economy.

The recession that officially began in February 2020, sometimes called the pandemic recession, likely ended later in 2020. The precise end date will be known only after the National Bureau of Economic Research formally declares so based on its review of economic data. Typically, the bureau announces when a recession began or ended months after the fact.

Great Recession

The recession that began in December 2007 and became the longest and deepest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It occurred after losses on subprime mortgages battered the U.S. housing market and financial system. The National Bureau of Economic Research said it officially ended in June 2009, having lasted 18 months.


A sell-off is the rapid selling of securities such as stocks, bonds or commodities. A sell-off can occur in an individual security – a company's stock, the 10-year Treasury note, crude oil futures — or in a broader market. A minor sell-off is called a pullback.

S&P 500 index

The market indicator most professional investors use to determine how stocks are performing. It encompasses 500 top companies in leading U.S. industries. Many mutual funds use it as the benchmark they measure their own performance against.

stay at home (v.), stay-at-home (adj.)

shutdown (n.), shut down (v.)

telecommute, telecommuting, telecommuter

teleconference, teleconferencing

unemployment rate

In the United States, this estimate of the number of unemployed residents seeking work is compiled monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an agency of the Labor Department.

Each month the bureau selects a cross section of the population and conducts interviews to determine the size of the U.S. workforce. The workforce is defined as the number of people who either have a job or are looking for one. The unemployment rate is expressed as a percentage: the proportion of the workforce that is out of work and looking for a job, adjusted to reflect variable factors such as seasonal trends.

The unemployment rate does not count people who are not looking for work, whether that is because they have given up, they are ill or they are caring for a family member. Nor does it count people who lost a full-time job and took a part-time job while they continue to look for full-time work. When workers are jobless for 27 weeks or more and have actively sought employment during the previous four weeks, the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies it as long-term unemployment

401(k) plan

A type of tax-free retirement savings account. Money in the account is invested in a variety of assets including stocks, according to options chosen by the account holder. Because it is a combination of numerals and a letter, it's OK in AP style to begin a sentence with 401(k).

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