How the Great Recession Has Changed Life in America

Jul 23, 2010

Of the 13 recessions that the American public has endured since the Great Depression of 1929-33, none has presented a more punishing combination of length, breadth and depth than this one.

A new Pew Research survey finds that 30 months after it began, the Great Recession has led to a downsizing of Americans’ expectations about their retirements and their children’s future; a new frugality in their spending and borrowing habits; and a concern that it could take several years, at a minimum, for their house values and family finances to recover.

The survey also finds that more than half of the adults in U.S. labor force (55%) have experienced some work-related hardship — be it a spell of unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours or an involuntary move to part-time work. In addition, the bursting of the pre-recession housing and stock market bubbles has shrunk the wealth of the average American household by an estimated 20%, the deepest such decline in the post-World War II era, according to government data.

While nearly all Americans have been hurt in one way or another, some groups have suffered more than others. Blacks, Hispanics and young adults have borne a disproportionate share of the job losses. Middle-aged adults have gotten the worst of the downturn in house values, household finances and retirement accounts. Men have lost many more jobs than women. And across most indicators, those with a high school diploma or less education have been hit harder than those with a college degree or more.

Whether by choice or necessity, many Americans have already significantly scaled back their pre-recession borrow-and-spend habits. According to government data, household spending has gone down, savings rates have gone up, consumer credit has remained stable and mortgage debt has plunged during this recession.

Read the full report, How the Great Recession Has Changed Life in America on the Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends Project Web site.

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