The U.S. economy cooled off more than originally estimated during the third quarter, although it is not close to being in recession, according to data released today (Dec. 21) by the Commerce Department.

The economy grew at a 2.2% rate during the July-through-September period. Initially, the government estimated the economy grew at a 2.4% rate during the three months ended Sept. 30.

However, the economy grew at a 5.6% rate during the second quarter of this year and at an astonishing 8.3% rate during the fourth quarter of 1999.

The Federal Reserve started raising interest rates late in 1999 and continued raising rates until last May, because it worried that productivity could not keep pace with the rapid rate of growth and would, thus, cause inflation to accelerate.

The Fed has not raised rates since May and it decided on Tuesday (Dec. 19) to leave rates unchanged.

Many economists believe 3% is the fastest rate of growth that an economy can sustain over the long-term because advances in technology cannot enhance productivity at a more rapid pace.

Many market analysts believe the economy will grow at around a 3% rate during 2001.

A recession is defined as a period that lasts at least six months during which the economy shrinks.