The Great Recession was the worst episode of unemployment in the United States in decades. Job losses were distributed unevenly and affected disproportionately younger workers, minorities, and lesser-educated Americans. In a new paper, the Columbia Population Research Center’s Natasha V. Pilkauskas, Janet M. Currie, and Irwin Garfinkel explore the material hardships experienced by disadvantaged families and how well government programs were able to staunch the bleeding. The results indicate that the recession did indeed lead to spikes in material hardships, but that things would have been quite a bit worse if not for the response of the social safety net.
Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (see Text Box), the authors examine associations between unemployment, material hardship and government transfers. The Fragile Families study provides a unique window into the impacts of the Great Recession, as data were collected from these families when their children turned 9 years old, which happened between 2007 and 2009—precisely the years over which the Great Recession fell.