The social changes brought by recessions

Here is my column on the social changes occasioned by recessions.  Of course recessions are mostly bad and this one is no exception.  Still, one underappreciated fact is that health outcomes appear to improve in recessions, not get worse (even though health care access and coverage decline):

Sure, it's stressful to miss a paycheck, but eliminating the stresses of a job may have some beneficial effects. Perhaps more
important, people may take fewer car trips, thus lowering the risk of
accidents, and spend less on alcohol and tobacco. They also have more
time for exercise and sleep, and tend to choose home cooking over fast
food.  In a 2003 paper, “Healthy Living in Hard Times,” Christopher J. Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina
at Greensboro, found that the death rate falls as unemployment rises.
In the United States, he found, a 1 percent increase in the
unemployment rate, on average, decreases the death rate by 0.5 percent.

In this recession the consumption of the wealthy is taking a bigger hit than is usually the case in a downturn:

In any recession, the poor suffer the most pain. But in cultural
influence, it may well be the rich who lose the most in the current
crisis. This downturn is bringing a larger-than-usual decline in
consumption by the wealthy.

The shift has been documented by Jonathan A. Parker and Annette Vissing-Jorgenson, finance professors at Northwestern University, in their recent paper,
“Who Bears Aggregate Fluctuations and How? Estimates and Implications
for Consumption Inequality.” Of course, people who held much wealth in
real estate or stocks
have taken heavy losses. But most important, the paper says, the labor
incomes of high earners have declined more than in past recessions, as
seen in the financial sector.

Popular culture’s catering to the
wealthy may also decline in this downturn. We can expect a shift away
from the lionizing of fancy restaurants, for example, and toward more
use of public libraries. Such changes tend to occur in downturns, but
this time they may be especially pronounced.


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