We know much about the broad economic dimensions of what is now referred to as the “Great Recession,” but far less is known about its social consequences. For example, unemployment statistics are cited almost daily in the media, but very little is understood about which sectors of the population are most severely impacted by unemployment. Similarly, very little research has been done on how the impacts of the recession are distributed, how families are coping and adapting to economic distress, and how economic hardships might be changing fundamental social and political attitudes. To provide early answers to questions like these, sociologist David Grusky of Stanford University has assembled a working group of distinguished scholars to write a book examining the social impacts of the recession and comparing it to past economic downturns.
The working group will explore a number of issues that demonstrate the broad impact the recession may be having on American life. Michael Hout of the University of California, Berkeley, will track unemployment by racial and ethnic categories, education level, gender, region, age, nativity, and industry. Tim Smeeding of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is examining the negative effects of the recession on household income and earnings, including the significant rise in poverty in the United States. Edward Wolff of New York University focuses on how the recession has impacted housing and wealth for people across the range of income distribution. Luigi Pistaferri of Stanford University addresses how the recession has led to a decline in consumer spending, which areas of spending have been most impacted, and how this differs from previous recessions in the United States and elsewhere. Lane Kenworthy of the University of Arizona examines how public opinion about government, business, inequality and opportunity has changed in response to each of the five recessions since the early 1970s. Philip Morgan of Duke University discusses the impact on the American family—from divorce and fertility rates, to trends in time spent together as a family and leisure time. And Rob Reich of Stanford University discusses how the nonprofit sector is faring—whether charitable giving is declining just as the need for philanthropy is rising.
Due to the timeliness of this issue, the working group has moved quickly to complete its mandate. The researchers began working on the chapters with funding from Stanford University in the summer of 2009, held a conference in February 2010 to refine the chapters, and turned in the first draft chapters in May 2010. They have also produced a summary of their findings for publication on their website, so that it is accessible to a wider audience. The book will be published by RSF in 2011 and early versions of the papers will be posted on this website. This award is intended to be a pilot project for possible future research into the social consequences of the Great Recession.