The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Impact of the Great Recession On the Economic Well-Being of Rural North Carolinians

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 10:00 AM
Executive Center 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Allison C. De Marco, MSW, PhD, Investigator/Adjunct Faculty, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carrboro, NC
Background and Purpose. With the Great Recession from 12/07 to 6/09, the US experienced its longest, and by most measures, worst recession since the Great Depression, evidenced by high unemployment, unprecedented job losses, and long-term unemployment. In North Carolina, the unemployment rate remained higher for longer than the four previous recessions (NC Employment Security Commission, 2011). This study uses secondary data to examine how the economic downturn impacted residents’ employment in the rural South and how those conditions are related to economic strain and food insecurity. There is a comparative dearth of information available on rural poverty, however, it is critical to address these issues because of disproportionate rates of poverty (Snyder & McLaughlin, 2004) and limited access to services in low-wealth, rural communities (Whitener, Duncan, & Weber, 2002).

Method. We use NC data (n=669) from the longitudinal Family Life Project, a representative sample of predominantly low-income, rural families in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, oversampled for African American and low-income families.  We use data from the 36-month home visit, collected 7/06 – 10/07, to capture conditions prior to the recession and the 58-month home visit, collected 7/08 – 12/09, to capture conditions during the recession. Extensive data was collected including demographics, economic well-being, and information about maternal work experiences. Descriptive, bivariate and regression analyses were conducted.

Results. During the recession 36% of these NC families reported a major employment change (starting/stopping a job, major changes in responsibilities, such as a promotion/demotion, significant change in hours). 23.5% went from working a standard to a nonstandard shift (evening, night, and rotating), while over 10% saw their employment become less stable, moving from permanent to temporary jobs. In bivariate analyses, economic strain did not rise significantly as food insecurity did.  In regression analysis, race and maternal education and age predicted big work changes.  Being African American and number of children were related to moving into nonstandard shifts.  Poverty predicted work becoming temporary, such that those with lower incomes were more likely see these changes. Finally, big work changes and poverty status predicted food insecurity at 58 months.  Work changes were not related to economic strain.

Conclusions and Implications. Through this study we illuminate how the recession has impacted rural families. Rural residents are more likely to be underemployed and to work in industries that require non-standard shifts (O’Hare, 2009), which increased in this sample over the recession. These schedules can negatively impact employees who experience more stress and fatigue, increased health complaints, reduced feelings of well-being, and poorer sleep (Martens et al., 1999). Further, these findings support previous research suggesting that over the course of the recession many workers lost their jobs, saw their hours or pay reduced and had to compensate by picking up extra jobs or hours at odd hours or resort to temporary positions (Seyfried, 2010). This knowledge will enable policy-makers to make more informed decisions about how to modify policies and programs to better match the situations present in these communities.