Research Areas

The sixteen selected domains cover the most important economic and social institutions in the U.S. In choosing them, our goal was simply to cover the major institutions of interest, not necessarily to single out those especially affected by the downturn. We rehearse below some of the core questions underlying the Recession Briefs within each domain.

Economic Domains

Income, Wealth, and Debt: This domain is arguably the epicenter of Great Recession effects. Among the many distinguishing features of the Great Recession, one of the more important is that it destroyed vast swaths of wealth of all types, including equities, financial securities, and real estate. How much of this wealth has now been recovered? Has there been a compression in the income distribution (as was the case in the Great Depression)? Find out here.

Consumption and Savings: The Great Recession brought about a precipitous decline in consumption at the top of the consumption distribution, whereas consumption at the bottom of the distribution has fared better, largely by virtue of public transfers. The key feature of this recession, as compared to prior ones, is that the downturn in consumption has been unusually prolonged, an especially worrying feature as the consumption-preserving effects of the stimulus abate. Read more about trends in consumption here.

Labor Markets: The recession, although officially over, lives on in the form of unusually high unemployment, underemployment, and long-term unemployment as well as an unusually low and upward-sticky employment-to-population ratio. Find out how our labor markets are faring here.

Housing: The Great Recession is a four-prong story about wealth destruction, declining consumption, prolonged unemployment, and, perhaps most importantly, a free-fall housing market. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of home foreclosure filings increased from approximately 1.2 million to almost 4 million, while the percentage of homeowners with negative net home equity (i.e., being "underwater") increased from approximately 2 percent to approximately 16 percent. Is there an end in sight? Learn more here.

Poverty: The recession-induced uptick in poverty has now completed the process of giving back all reductions in poverty that were secured over the boom years of the 1990s. Although the increase in poverty is sizable, there's much evidence that stimulus monies (especially in the form of ramped-up automatic stabilizers) prevented what would have been a far more substantial increase. Learn about recent trends in poverty here

Social Safety Net: The bleak jobs and foreclosure picture has placed new and unprecedented demands on the country's safety net. How have participation rates for unemployment insurance, food stamps, and EITC fared? Learn more about the state of our safety net here.

State Budgets: In many states, there's a looming financial crisis because of declines in revenue, increasing demand for services, and the loss of federal stimulus funds. How have our states responded? Find out here.

Social Domains 

Family and Lifecourse: It's long been argued that various key demographic processes will be affected by the economic downturn. For all the worrying, no effects on divorce or marriage have been uncovered, whereas a distinct falloff in fertility is clearly underway. Learn more about the "demography of the downturn" here.

Health and Mental Health: Because job loss and worries about job loss are an important source of stress, and because these may also bring about a loss of health-care coverage or underuse of the healthcare system, the economic downturn may be associated with various negative health outcomes, such as hypertension, depression, and other psychiatric problems. Is this indeed happening? Find out here.

Education: Because of the state fiscal crisis, most states have made or will make substantial cuts in their education budgets, while many families are finding it increasingly difficult to finance the education of their children (from preschool to college age). The underlying demand for college and even secondary schooling may at the same time increase during a period when jobs are harder to find (and hence the opportunity cost of human capital investments is reduced). Read about the state of U.S. education here.

Crime: Although U.S. crime rates have been stable or declining over the last decade, some commentators have expressed concern that a deteriorating labor market may reverse that long-standing trend, not just as regards property crimes but violent crimes as well. In addition, the deteriorating state fiscal climate may lead to the early release of many prisoners and thereby reduce incarceration rates, with possible changes (of unknown size or even direction) in crime rates. Have these fears been borne out? Learn more here.

Immigration: The recession appears to have hit immigrants especially hard because they work disproportionately in vulnerable industries (e.g., construction) and, some have argued, because of a recession-induced rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. We do know that the inflow of economic migrants from Mexico to the U.S. has declined sharply of late. Are there other big changes in immigration? Find out here.

Political Attitudes and Public Opinion: Will the economic downturn induce a loss of confidence in our key social, political, and economic institutions? Although most attitudinal effects are so far quite small and delimited in nature, it's possible that, insofar as some protracted Japan-style downturn unfolds, more fundamental changes will ultimately reveal themselves. Learn more about the political and attitudinal fallout here.

Charitable Giving: The U.S. approach to reducing poverty relies disproportionately on private charitable giving. Although total giving has declined somewhat, Americans are still making charitable contributions at impressively high rates. Moreover, a larger share of total giving is now directed toward those in need, an apparent shift in priorities that may or may not persist (as compassion fatigue possibly sets in). Find out more here.

Retirement: The conventional wisdom is that Americans will increasingly choose to delay their retirement because of pension shortfalls in states and municipalities, because private pension accounts are still under pre-recession levels, and because of losses in housing equity. Obversely, there's also evidence suggesting that some older Americans are, by virtue of layoffs and other demand-side shifts, finding themselves obliged to exit the labor force prematurely. We provide a simple primer on retirement and the recession here.

Communities: Because the housing and employment crisis has registered in some regions and subregions more than others, the impact of the downturn will likely prove highly variable across communities, with many suburban communities appearing to be especially vulnerable (far more so than in past recessions). Learn more here