Inaugural Symposium panel tackles recession's impact on families

Professor of Sociology Robert J. S. Ross and graduate student Laura Faulkner ’10

Sociology Prof. Robert J. S. Ross and graduate student Laura Faulkner ’10

The recession has taken its toll on many American households as jobs disappear and families reel under harsh financial circumstances.

Recognizing the devastating outcomes here in Massachusetts, the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise at Clark presented a seminar for state legislators in March titled “The Great Recession and Its Impact on Families.” The seminar presented reviews and research on the effect of job loss as a stress on family health and stability, the changing occupational structure, especially from the perspective of women heads of households and blue-collar job loss, and the connection between job loss and family violence. [Watch a video of the symposium session.]

*Be sure to check out links to postings, pictures, and videos covering Inauguration Week happenings online, including the installation ceremony, complete Symposium coverage, the Inaugural Dinner with President Angel's special guest Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and more. *

That research was revisited in the fourth and final Inaugural Symposium panel held Friday (Sept. 24) in Razzo Hall. Moderated by James Gomes, Director of the Mosakowski Institute, the panel included Research Professor of Psychology Denise Hines, Professor of Sociology Robert J. S. Ross and graduate student Laura Faulkner ’10.

In his introductory remarks, William S. Mosakowski ’76, Chair of the Board of Trustees, compared the recession to a “mixed martial arts brawl” for which the nation doesn’t seem equipped.

“We come at it a bit flabby and think we can win with the King’s Rules of Boxing,” he said. “We can, and must, do better.”

Ross noted that the recession has accelerated the loss of blue-collar jobs in Massachusetts. The proportion of manufacturing as a percentage of total employment in the state has dropped from the mid-20s during the mid-1980s to about 7 percent today, he said.

Folks who worked good-paying manufacturing jobs are forced to accept lower wage jobs that on average pay $263 per week less than their old positions, he said. Men have incurred a higher rate of job loss than women (hence the popular term “Man-cession”), which has altered the traditional family roles in many households. For displaced workers, the stress is often manifested through anxiety, depression, loss of self-esteem, and in some cases even cardiovascular disease and other physical ailments.

He also noted that research shows a rise in marital discord during the recession, but not in the rate of divorce. One theory is that couples can’t afford to divorce, in large part because they can’t sell their house, he said.

Ross added that unions may be critical in ensuring that those working low-level jobs will have health insurance and sufficient wages to support a family.

Faulkner presented findings from the Crittenton Women’s Union that showed so-called “hot jobs” — jobs that require two years or less of post-secondary education, pay sustainable wages and have a high rate of openings — are on the decline. In 2007 there were 26 categories of hot jobs, and by 2010 that number has fallen to 11. Many of the jobs that dropped off the list were in the public sector, which is eliminating positions as state and local municipalities react to shrinking budgets.

One anti-poverty strategy, Faulkner said, is to offer two years of free community college rather than the current one year allowed to those on public assistance. “Free education through 12th grade is simply not enough anymore,” she said.

Professor of Psychology Denise Hines

Professor of Psychology Denise Hines

Hines shared statistics of child maltreatment and family violence, and noted the destructive effects of those suffering from violence, ranging from physical and mental health problems to increased reliance on public assistance.

She said economic indicators, as opposed to other factors such as substance abuse, are “not strongly linked” to levels of family violence.

Hines said the rates of child maltreatment and domestic violence have steadily declined from the 1990s through 2008. While some domestic-violence agencies are experiencing an increase in the number of clients, that might be attributed to families having fewer resources to address their issues, she said

Public awareness and education campaigns, home visitation programs and family intervention programs work best when dealing with cases of child maltreatment, Hines said.

In cases of domestic violence, targeted therapies for individuals and couples are more effective than generic one-size-fits-all programs, she said. 

- By Jim Keogh, Director of News and Editorial Services

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