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Middle-Income Families in the Economic Downturn: Challenges and Management Strategies over Time

Authors:
Roberta Iversen, University of Pennsylvania
Laura Napolitano, University of Pennsylvania
Publication Date:
Jan 2011
Project Programs:
Social Inequality

The “Great Recession” that began in 2007 has hurt many families across the United States, yet most research has examined its impact on those already considered poor or working poor.
However, this recession has affected middle-income families, whose experiences with economic challenge have seldom been looked at in any detail. Such families have recently been called “the new poor,” “the missing middle,” and “families in the middle.” One in seven American children under age 18 (10.5 million) has an unemployed parent as a result of this recession, and because economic mobility for children in the U.S. is affected by their parents’ earning capacities, these children’s educational and employment futures may be permanently constrained. The research presented here, which is informed by Weberian stratification theory and capital theories, is based on a small longitudinal subset of a larger, two-country, multicity, mixed-methods study. Two waves of in-person interviews between spring 2008 and late fall 2009, revealed how families experienced the economic downturn, and the management strategies that parents used to try to counter its negative effects. Parents were moderately able to provide financially for their children’s daily needs and support children’s current school activities, despite income and job challenges and losses, but less able to continue to develop children’s future-enhancing capital.

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