The 2001 U.S. economic recession was milder and the recovery since then not as strong as previously believed, the Commerce Department said yesterday.

The economy shrank at a 0.2 percent annual rate, adjusted for inflation, from the end of 2000 through September 2001, according to department revisions of economic growth figures for the last three years. The department previously estimated that the nation's output of goods and services, or gross domestic product, had fallen at a 0.7 percent annual rate during the period.

From the last three months of 2001 through the first quarter of this year, GDP has been rising at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent, slightly below the 3.4 percent average increase earlier estimated, according to the department's revised figures.

The last recession began in March 2001 and ended in November of that year, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the official timer of U.S. recessions.

The revisions altered the quarterly GDP figures more than the overall annual economic growth rates. Commerce had previously said the economy contracted for three consecutive quarters in 2001. The revisions show that economic output seesawed, falling in the first and third quarters of 2001 and rising in the second and fourth quarters.

-- Nell Henderson