A Tale of Two Recessions

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Last week, economists declared that the Great Recession, which began in late 2007, actually ended in June 2009. Yet, as bad as the economy has been, a new survey claims that the Great Recession really wasn’t that big a deal for nearly half of Americans.

According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 55% of Americans “lost ground” during the recession, meaning they lost a job, missed a payment on their house or endured other financial hardships. On the other hand, 45% of those surveyed claimed to have “held their own” during the recession, meaning they may have experienced some setbacks but were largely left unscathed by the economic downturn.

Pew’s results are based on surveys with nearly 3,000 Americans and they paint a surprising portrait of a country that experienced two very different recessions.

“For example, more than four-in-ten adults who Lost Ground (43%) say they were unemployed at some point during the recession, compared with less than 1% of those who Held their Own. Fully a third (35%) of those who Lost Ground had problems paying their rent or mortgage, while not a single one of those who Held their Own reported similar difficulties,” Pew reported. “Likewise, no one who Held their Own during the recession reported having trouble finding or paying for medical care, or having to borrow money from friends or family to pay bills, compared with 48% and 42%, respectively, of those who Lost Ground.”

So who exactly were these Americans who seemed to coast through the recession?

Pew Research found that those who held their own were more likely to be older white Americans who had graduated from college, identified themselves as Republican and lived along the East Coast. In fact, about 70% of those 65 and older who were surveyed said they held their own.

By contrast, younger Americans, minorities and those with only a high school education were more likely to have lost ground during the recession.

In fact, much of the difference between these two groups can be boiled down to one fundamental reality: Those who were further along in building wealth before the recession hit were more likely to survive. That’s because they had more assets to lean on during hard times.

Not surprisingly, this big gap in how people experienced the recession also leads to vastly different views of the current state of the economy.

“Nearly half (45%) of those who Lost Ground rate current economic conditions as "poor," compared with 29% of those who Held their Own,” Pew reports.

Which category do you fall into? Did you make it through the recession without having to struggle too much, or do you feel that the economic downturn hit you especially hard?

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