Recession Task Force

It is widely acknowledged that the current recession, often dubbed the Great Recession, has been the deepest and most challenging economic downturn since the Great Depression. Although there has been much discussion of the causes of the fiscal crisis and subsequent downturn, we know surprisingly little so far about its social and economic impact and how that impact is being borne by different population groups. Who, for example, is most likely to be unemployed, to face foreclosure, to go into debt, to cut back on basic consumption items (e.g., healthy food), or to fall into poverty? Are blacks, immigrants, and the less educated suffering especially? Are women indeed as protected as some have claimed? Or is this, as others have suggested, a recession that is unusually broad in its impact, forcing many formerly privileged and middle class workers into dire circumstances?

We likewise know rather little about how the population is reacting to this sudden and unprecedented downturn in its economic and social situation. The Great Depression, many have argued, was borne relatively well by a "hardened" population with ample reservoirs of experience in coping with economic and other stressors. Is the current U.S. population, raised as it was during a period of unprecedented prosperity and consumption, rather less prepared for sacrifice and hard times? How are families coping, adapting, and changing? Is the nonprofit sector continuing to "fill in the gaps" and making such difficulties as they face more manageable? Or are charities also being pushed to the brink?

These behavioral changes may or may not be coupled with profound changes in the types of social institutions we trust, our attitudes about opportunity and fairness, and our political tastes and preferences. Here again we know surprisingly little. Although presumably our faith in the banking and financial sectors eroded during the early crisis, has our faith now rebounded as the financial sector begins to recover? Has there been a broader deterioration in the legitimacy of all social and political institutions? Has the crisis spawned a new cynicism about the fairness of the income distribution and inequality more generally? Can we identify a simple "crisis effect" on political attitudes?

This initiative takes on such questions (and many more) by assembling top scholars in the social sciences and asking them to weigh in to the extent that the available data allow. We examine the effects of the Great Recession on the labor market, income and earnings, housing and wealth, consumption and spending, the family, public opinion and attitudes, and charitable giving and the nonprofit sector.