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Monitoring the Effects of the Great Recession

Awarded Scholars

David Grusky, Stanford University
Project Date: February, 2011
Award Amount:$260,156

Supplemental Appropriation: December 2010, $8,151

The Great Recession is now generally recognized as the most serious economic crisis in the United States since the Great Depression. During the eighteen months between December 2007 and June 2009, Americans lost nearly 30 percent of their total net worth as stock values plummeted. Home foreclosures reached historic highs in 2009, and in 2010 a record 2.9 million properties received foreclosure filings. Despite some recovery in the stock market in the past two years, unemployment remains stubbornly high at 9 percent. Some of the recession’s immediate consequences have been clear—the exposure of underfunded pensions as the stock market fell, higher unemployment as companies shed jobs and scaled back hiring, home values in free-fall as the housing bubble burst—all leading to declines in individual economic circumstances. But does the disproportionate impact on certain segments of the economy and specific regions of the country, for example, suggest a fundamental restructuring of the labor market? What happens to communities where high-unemployment rates and high-foreclosure rates coincide? What is the impact on housing stock, home values, fiscal capacity, out-migration, and more elusive matters like social capital and social efficacy? 

Such questions form the core of the Foundation’s new research initiative examining the social and economic effects of the Great Recession. To support the initiative, the Foundation is developing a dedicated web site that will serve as a communication hub presenting the best social science analyses of the recession’s effects. Under the direction of David Grusky (Stanford University), the web site will be a comprehensive resource for multiple audiences, including scholars, policymakers, the media, and the general public; once completed, the site will be shared jointly between RSF and Stanford’s Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality (CPI).  As a hub for communicating the most up-to-date trends and recent research about recession effects, the web site will house several different but interrelated components. The site will include basic data on sixteen economic and social domains that are conceptually linked to the domains laid out in the Foundation’s Great Recession initiative: Income, Wealth, and Debt; Consumption and Savings; Labor Markets; Housing; Poverty; Social Safety Net; Fiscal Crisis in State Budgets; Family and Lifecourse; Health and Mental Health; Education; Crime; Immigration; Political Attitudes and Behaviors, and Public Opinion; Charitable Giving; Retirement; and Communities. Each domain will be represented by a number of different indicators that are drawn from a broad and diverse group of data sources. The site will also include substantive documentation of the data sources, measures, and methodologies employed in constructing variables and trends. The site's data-graphing utility will vividly illustrate trends in various social and economic domains, permitting users to select a particular domain of interest, choose which indicator to explore, and, with a few mouse clicks, select particular characteristics to be graphed. The resulting graph will be downloadable as a PDF or JPEG file, and the data will also be easily retrievable as an MS Excel or an ASCII file. 

In addition to the detailed presentation of data, the web site will also include interpretative summaries of the most important and intriguing trends occurring within each domain. These summaries, including figures of key indicators, will be commissioned from leading social scientists with extensive expertise in each domain. Nearly all of the indicators chosen for the web site are released semi-annually, annually, or bi-annually, so the trends discussed in interpretive summaries can be updated every time a new data release occurs. The web site will also provide a series of podcasts featuring key contributors and experts within each domain. Finally, the site will serve as a central repository for drafts of research papers funded through the Foundation’s Great Recession initiative. Preliminary drafts of works in progress will populate the web site until RSF releases the final publications.