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Assets among low-income families in the Great Recession

Duque, Valentina; Pilkauskas, Natasha; Garfinkel, Irwin; Columbia University. Social Work

This paper examines the association between the Great Recession and real assets among families with young children. Real assets such as homes and cars are key indicators of economic well-being that may be especially valuable to low-income families. Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 4,898), we investigate the association between the city unemployment rate and home and car ownership and how the relationship varies by family structure (married, cohabiting, and single parents) and by race/ethnicity (White, Black, and Hispanic mothers). Using mother fixed-effects models, we find that a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate is associated with a -0.5 percentage point decline in the probability of home ownership and a -0.7 percentage point decline in the probability of car ownership. We also find that the recession was associated with lower levels of home ownership for cohabiting families and for Hispanic families, as well as lower car ownership among single mothers and among Black mothers, whereas no change was observed among married families or White households. Considering that homes and cars are the most important assets among middle and low-income households in the U.S., these results suggest that the rise in the unemployment rate during the Great Recession may have increased household asset inequality across family structures and race/ethnicities, limiting economic mobility, and exacerbating the cycle of poverty.

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March 26, 2018
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