Economist Kenneth Rogoff says we shouldn’t call what happened to America in 2008 and 2009 a “Great Recession,” because it understates the true nature of the crisis. Recessions are frequent events from which we can quickly recover, but the financial panic of 2008 has much more in common with the Crash of 1929 than it does with any of the recessions we’ve experienced in the years since the 1930s. By calling it a recession, he argues, we have — at our own peril — underestimated the severity of the crisis that befell us just four years ago.
For many reasons, including the coordinated response of world governments and central banks, the effects of the most recent financial crisis were not as severe as those experienced during the Great Depression. But human suffering around the country has been grave. A staggering 15% of the American population is below the poverty line, up from 13.2% before the recession began in December of 2007. In that same period of time, food stamp use has increased to the point that now one in seven Americans is taking advantage of the program. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, as there are more than four million fewer jobs in America than there were before the recession.
At the same time, many Americans have been insulated by the effects of this economic malaise. The total national income, or GDP, has recovered — surpassing its pre-recession peak last spring. But these gains have been distributed unevenly — even as the recession officially ended, median incomes have declined, while those at the top have risen.
Over the past 18 months the photography cooperative Magnum Photos has embarked on several projects which seek to record the modern American experience in a collaborative fashion. Along their way, Magnum photographers have documented the experiences of many Americans as they deal with consequences of the 2008 financial crisis.