On October 27, 2021, the Institute for Research on Poverty held a webinar titled, “How Have the Working Poor and Working Class Fared Since the Great Recession?” The event featured work from the new volume of the ANNALS of American Academy of Political and Social Science. The volume covers a broad range of issues that have affected working-class Americans in the decade-long recovery from the Great Recession and the beginning of the COVID-19 recession and recovery.

Dr. Erica Groshen of Cornell University moderated the session. Participants and authors included Timothy Smeeding, volume editor, Fenaba Addo, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, William Darity Jr., Duke University, Jasmine Simington, University of Michigan, and Jeff Smith, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The presenters addressed racial differences in wealth accumulation, geographical variation in worker and community success and distress, Career and Technical Education (CTE) and workforce entry, policies, and outcomes for lower-income workers and families.

Dr. Groshen sharing the specifics of her new paper analyzing 40 years of wage trends in labor force participation for the working class (meaning individuals with a high school education or less) compared to workers with a college degree. Dr. Groshen described “3 disappointing trends” that were found. Firstly, inflation adjusted median wages have been stagnate, therefore there has been no increase in inflation adjusted wages in 40 years. Secondly, inequality between workers obtaining a college education versus not obtaining a degree has increased dramatically. The final focal trend was the large amount of non-college educated males that have left the workforce.

Tim, Smeeding shared the timeline of the project, beginning in October in 2019 with studying the American working class since the great recession. Although the project began with this purpose, it took on a new meaning after the pandemic. The project evolved into “the long recovery from the great recession was sandwiched between the great recession and the COVID-19 recession and recovery”. Smeeding shared three key periods that the volume focused on, starting with The Great Recession (from December 2007 – June 2009), The Long Recovery (from July 2009 – February 2020), and COVID-19 Recession & Recovery (March 2020 – continuing).

Smeeding focused on three broad questions; first, how poor, and working-class Americans and those at risk of economic disadvantage fared during the Long Recovery expansion. Second, how the labor market for lower-paid workers changed since the Great Recession. Lastly, how labor market institutions and social policy systems serving lower income and working-class Americans changed over, or reacted to, the long recovery expansion. These questions were answered over the 19-page volume.

Jasmine Simington examined the variation in Great Recession effects across different demographics. The findings from this research concluded that disadvantaged counties contain 39 percent of the U.S. population. Compared to advantaged counties, they had more black residents and a smaller share of their working-age population held a bachelor’s degree. Simington emphasizes that county trajectories are shaped by racial/ethnic composition and industry. Structural racism remains a defining characteristic of disadvantage and working-class counties gained the least through the long recovery period.

To gain access go to ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Recording of webinar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ6MBPF7GS4