Recession Briefs: All

How is the downturn affecting inequality, consumption, unemployment, housing, poverty, the safety net, health, education, crime, attitudes, and more? The latest Recession Briefs, written by the top experts in the country, provide up-to-date evidence on the social and economic effects of the downturn.


Crime and the Great Recession

  • Author: Christopher Uggen
  • Date: October 10, 2012
Common sense tells us that crime should increase during hard times. After all, more than 90 percent of the serious "index" crimes reported each year in the government's Uniform Crime Reports involve some kind of financial remuneration. And we've all seen examples of people taking desperate actions when they are cold, broke, and hungry, whether through real-life, firsthand observations or through fictional characters like Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. Yet there is much evidence that crime rates and economic indicators often diverge.

Charitable Giving and the Great Recession

  • Authors: Rob Reich and Christopher Wimer
  • Date: October 10, 2012
Americans have long been, and continue to be, a famously charitable people. Whereas Europeans have well-developed and comprehensive welfare states, the United States has always relied more on private charity to support a multitude of causes, including aid and assistance to the poor.

Consumption and the Great Recession

  • Authors: Luigi Pistaferri and Ivaylo Petev
  • Date: October 10, 2012
The particular trauma of severe downturns is that declining consumer spending, itself a reaction to the economy's contraction, also undermines the prospects for recovery. Consumption is, in other words, a fundamental determinant of business cycles - a kind of litmus test of economic health. But it's not just an important determinant of future economic performance. We also look to consumption as an omnibus measure of the set of socioeconomic conditions that underlie consumer behavior, such as job opportunities, price fluctuations, access to credit, and financial security. In this recession brief, we offer an interpretation of recent consumption data in order to determine the extent of the economic damage and its unequal distribution across the American populace.

Family, the Lifecourse, and the Great Recession

  • Authors: S. Philip Morgan, Erin Cumberworth, and Christopher Wimer
  • Date: October 10, 2012
The family is an important setting within which the Great Recession can exert its influence. Although the downturn directly affected many workers by reducing their earnings or forcing them into unemployment, it affected others indirectly by changing their living arrangements or family life. Further, the ways in which families are formed or broken up may be affected by the Great Recession, as it can alter the perceived costs and benefits of various family-relevant behaviors. Amid the turmoil and economic upheaval in the wider economy, individuals and families go about their lives, deciding to get married, suffering through breakups and divorces, planning families, and sorting out their living arrangements. The recession could have major effects on all of these family processes.

Health, Mental Health, and the Great Recession

  • Author: Sarah Burgard
  • Date: October 10, 2012
Are we experiencing a "health recession"? While many think the impacts of the Great Recession are mostly confined to the labor and housing markets, the recession may also have taken a toll on health and wellbeing. In assessing such health impacts, it's important to distinguish between direct and indirect effects, the former pertaining to the health of those who are directly impacted by recession-induced negative events, such as unemployment, and the latter pertaining to the more diffuse behavioral changes that a recession may bring about among the general population. For example, the recession might reduce the amount of discretionary driving (to save on fuel costs), with the indirect result being fewer accidents.

Housing and the Great Recession

  • Authors: Ingrid Gould Ellen and Samuel Dastrup
  • Date: October 10, 2012
The story of the Great Recession cannot be told without addressing housing and, in particular, the dramatic decline in housing prices that began in late 2006. A distinctive feature of the Great Recession is its intimate connection to the housing sector; indeed many would argue that the Great Recession was triggered by the widespread failure of risky mortgage products. Whatever the sources of the Great Recession may have been, the housing sector is still deeply troubled and is a key contributor to our ongoing economic duress. This recession brief lays out the main features of the downturn in the housing sector.

Immigration and the Great Recession

  • Author: Douglas S. Massey
  • Date: October 10, 2012
Immigration has been a major component of demographic change in the United States over the past several decades, constituting at least a third of U.S. population growth and up to a half of labor force growth in any given year. By any standard, it is a central feature of the nation’s political economy and thus especially important to monitor as the Great Recession plays out. This brief reviews levels and patterns of immigration to the United States over the past three decades, with a particular focus on their implications for the nation as it recovers from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.

Income, Wealth and Debt and the Great Recession

  • Author: Timothy Smeeding
  • Date: October 10, 2012
The Great Depression is often cast as the beginning of the end for the late Gilded Age. Because it brought on the institutional reforms of the New Deal, it led to dramatic reductions in income inequality and set the stage for a long period of comparatively low inequality. The purpose of this recession brief is to ask whether the Great Recession, like the Great Depression, is likewise shaping up as a compressive event that will reverse some of the run-up in inequality of the so-called New Gilded Age. This question can be taken on by examining recent and long-term trends in wealth inequality, income inequality, median incomes, and debt.

The Labor Force and the Great Recession

  • Authors: Michael Hout and Erin Cumberworth
  • Date: October 10, 2012
The Great Recession and the slow recovery since have been the longest economic slump in seventy years. It affected vulnerable populations more than others. In this brief, our aim is to put this disaster into historical context, looking first at the overall state of the labor market and then at how the economic harm has been distributed across the population by gender, level of education, and race and ethnicity.

Poverty and the Great Recession

  • Authors: Sheldon Danziger, Koji Chavez, and Erin Cumberworth
  • Date: October 10, 2012
Severe economic downturns, like the Great Depression, are associated with substantial increases in poverty and material hardship. Since the Great Depression, the United States has developed programs and policies, many of which were launched during the New Deal and the War on Poverty-Great Society periods, that aim to protect the poor, the unemployed, children, the disabled, and the elderly against severe deprivation. It is important to examine how these programs performed during the most severe recession the country has experienced since the Great Depression.