Economic recessions are often portrayed as short-term events. However, as a substantial body of economic literature shows, the consequences of high unemployment, falling incomes, and reduced economic activity can have lasting consequences. For example, job loss and falling incomes can force families to delay or forgo a college education for their children. Frozen credit markets and depressed consumer spending can stop the creation of otherwise vibrant small businesses. Larger companies may delay or reduce spending on R&D.
In each of these cases, an economic recession can lead to “scarring”—that is, long-lasting damage to individuals’ economic situations and the economy more broadly. This report examines some of the evidence demonstrating the long-run consequences of recessions.
There is also substantial evidence that economic outcomes are passed across generations. As such, economic hardships for parents will mean more economic hurdles for their children. While it is often said that deficits can cause transfers of wealth from future generations of taxpayers to the present, this cost must also be compared with the economic consequences of recessions that are also passed to future generations.
This analysis also suggests that efforts to stimulate the economy can be very effective over both the short- and long-run. Using a simple illustrative accounting framework, it is shown that an economic stimulus can lead to a short-run boost in output that outweighs the additional interest costs of the associated debt increase. This is especially true over a short horizon.
A recession, therefore, should not be thought of as a one-time event that stresses individuals and families for a couple of years. Rather, economic downturns will impact the future prospects of all family members, including children, and will have consequences for years to come. (author summary)