The right place at the right time, unfortunately

September 16, 2009

National Poverty Center surveying effects of recession and federal stimulus on Southeast Michigan workers and families

Long affected by the loss of well-paid manufacturing jobs, workers and families in Southeast Michigan have been hit especially hard by the current economic crisis. Michigan has among the highest rates in the nation for foreclosures, unemployment, and personal bankruptcy filings.

The federal government has poured stimulus funds into the region under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, providing direct aid to the disadvantaged and unemployed and significant additional funding to the automobile industry.

This confluence of economic suffering and the rapid influx of government funds make Southeast Michigan the right place at the right time to explore the impacts of economic and public policy changes.

Poverty researchers at the Ford School have designed an ambitious new panel survey that will help policymakers and researchers better understand the effects of the severe recession, the housing crisis, and the federal stimulus funding on workers and families in the region. Sheldon Danziger and Kristin Seefeldt lead the research team, which also includes Ford School faculty Robert Schoeni and Sandra Danziger, as well as Institute for Social Research health economist Helen Levy and U-M sociologist Sarah Burgard.

The study will explore the influence of the recession and the collapse of stock and housing prices on the economic and non-economic well-being of workers and families, and will assess the extent to which social welfare programs and federal stimulus spending offset some of the negative effects of the economic crisis. It will also investigate the effects of changes in exposure to economic hardships and in the use of social programs on health and socio-economic disparities between African Americans and non-Hispanic whites.

Danziger says, "Past research on job loss links layoffs with significant increases in health problems, in part due to increased stress. However, none of that research has been conducted under economic conditions like we have now. It could be that we're about to see health and emotional problems increase dramatically."

On the other hand, Seefeldt points out that many in the media report that recession adversity is bringing families together. "But stories like these are anecdotal," she says. "We need solid evidence about how families are managing and what types of public policies work best to mitigate hardships."

A stratified random sample of 1,000 households in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties will be surveyed. The survey instrument covers a comprehensive set of issues: demographics, employment and the labor market, income and assets (including net housing worth), material hardships, credit and debt, health and mental health, and public program use. Researchers will field the first survey wave this fall, with subsequent waves planned for 2010-2012.

The surveys that will be conducted this fall are supported by generous grants from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Ford Foundation, and the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan.


Below is a formatted version of this article from State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View the entire Fall 2009 State & Hill here.