Rows upon rows of foreclosed homes. Endless lines at the unemployment office. Weekly trips to the Dollar General for bargain deals. For millions of Americans who grew up during the late 2000s and early 2010s, these scenes represented daily reminders of their economic precarity. 2018 roughly marks the tenth anniversary of the start of the Great Recession, arguably the worst economic crisis in our nation’s history since the Great Depression. Brought on by risky lending and borrowing practices in the U.S housing market during the mid-2000s, the Recession sent shockwaves through a heavily interconnected American economy: “official” unemployment figures hit double digits during its peak, while median household income dropped in value by over four percentage points. For a generation of college students who spent their elementary and middle school years in the shadow of the Great Recession, it is perhaps easy to forget the lasting effects the crisis has left upon our country and communities.
Politically, the effects of the Great Recession are evident in the current partisan divisions among American voters. Analysts have noted that the Recession’s effects have been particularly acute among America’s working classes, with some even labeling the downturn “a white-collar recession, a blue-collar depression.” According to some estimates, 95 percent of jobs created during the recovery have gone to employees with at least some college background; the industries that added the largest numbers of jobs to the economy have been consulting and business services—the preserve of the highly educated. The uneven nature of the recovery resulted in large numbers of once proud Democratic blue-collar Americans defecting to other causes, including to the Trump camp. The Recession and its recovery, indirectly, doomed our generation to suffer the consequences of an inept, disastrous presidential administration.
Beyond just politics and the overall economy, the Recession’s effects were felt in most American households and institutions. Some of us remember seeing our parents come home with the dreaded pink slip. Some of us maybe had to take up part-time jobs given our parents’ job precarity. Maybe we even had an older brother or sister who moved back home. Even here at Duke, one of the wealthiest institutions in the world, the consequences of the Great Recession were evident: the University lost nearly $2 billion of its endowment at the end of fiscal 2009. The Recession thus rearranged a number of priorities for Duke in an age of limited financial resources. A plan to transform Central Campus into an “academic village” was scrapped by a cash-strapped administration, and loans continue to be a part of Duke’s financial aid packages despite the policies at other peer institutions.
Despite the trauma of the Great Recession and its effects on our generation, it is all too easy to ignore the downturn and relegate it to the annals of history. For our socioeconomic class (i.e. college students at an elite private university), the economic future appears to be bright and uplifting: the job market seems to be booming, and “official” unemployment figures are at a historic low. Gone are the days of dollar menus and part-time Starbucks gigs; hello to $30 Sunday mimosas and Christmas bonuses at Bain. Yet, as experts point out, in our current capitalist system, prosperity is only temporary. The next recession is around the corner, and its effects are unknown. Who knows? Maybe in two years, another generation of college graduates will again find themselves moving back to their parents’ homes, wondering what to make of their futures in a depressed national economy of the early 2020s.
The Great Recession represents to our generation one of the most important events of the last twenty years, altering the political, economic and social landscapes we inhabit. Yet, we should not only think of the Recession and the recovery in purely pessimistic terms. The current job market, for instance, affords many of us the opportunity to become invested in a career we are truly passionate about—not just lucrative finance and consulting positions. With wages for certain segments of the population at an all-time high post-Recession, we should aim to save large sums of our income into savings accounts and other safe investments so that when the next recession hits, we are ready. In navigating our post-Great Recession world, we should continue to take heed, though: prosperity is only temporary…