The Upsides of the Recession

Anyone who has opened a newspaper, turned on the TV or even been in contact with human life forms in the last few months knows the downside of the current financial crisis. Millions of jobs have been lost, California has been forced to put thousands of workers on furlough and mortgage defaults have left entire cul-de-sacs in foreclosure. However, if we are to believe the cliché that every cloud has a silver lining, then what is the upside of this recession? Here is a list. The human costs are already too high and are likely to get higher before things get better, but there have been some bright spots.
1. Americans are reading more. The Boston Globe reported in January that libraries across the country are seeing double-digit increases. San Francisco’s libraries have seen 27 percent more requests for library cards since the recession began. Since personal finances are tight, people are looking for cheap ways to spend their free time. So the recession is contributing to a more literate populace, an achievement of no small importance — if only for the publishing houses.
2. More Americans are headed for graduate and professional schools. While this trend is born of a desire to ride out the hard times, like many of the recession’s upsides, the end result is that America’s labor force is being upgraded for the better. It may just turn out that a recession was just what the country needed to make its work force more competitive.
3. In his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama praised the “selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job.” An MSNBC online poll seems to support this statement. Fifty percent of those polled said that they would be willing to take a pay cut to save a co-worker’s job, while only a quarter said no. If nothing else, the recession is proving to the cynics that Americans are motivated by more than personal financial gain.
4. Americans are saving more. For years, economists have despaired about America’s negative saving rate. In many ways, the consumer culture that has fueled America’s growth has also laid the foundations for this recession. Now, for the first time in years, Americans are saving more. In December, the savings rate hit 3.9 percent up from negative 1 percent in 2006. While this may affect the economy negatively in the present, if the recession changes American saving habits, the higher saving rates will be good for the economy in the future.
5. So far, the recession is leveling the playing field for women in the workforce. Catherine Rampell reports for The New York Times that “women are poised to surpass men on the nation’s payrolls, taking the majority for the first time in American history.” She notes that this shift is mostly due to the fact that the male dominated construction and banking industries have been hardest hit by the downturn. However, the culture shift may be a catalyst for change.
These are some of the positive trends that the recession has spurred. Many, if not all, have been forced by economic hardship. The payoffs, if they ever come, will materialize in the future. Sometimes recessions can catalyze much-needed changes in both the lives of individuals and on a larger societal scale. Things that never seemed possible or even necessary in times of plenty, whether it is an alternative energy initiative or a new career, become achievable when the entire framework of our lives is falling down. Recession can provide a clean(er) slate to build the future on and that is the brightest silver lining of all in a very bad time.

Mengfei Chen is a third-year international studies major. She can be reached at