10 Years Since Lehman Brothers Collapse, Here’s What’s Still Hurting

September 14, 2018, 1:25 PM UTC

In many ways, the U.S. economy appears to have made a smooth recovery since the bankruptcy of Wall Street titan Lehman Brothers marked the start of the 2008 financial crisis.

Unemployment has hit multi decade lows, while the U.S. stock market has continued to reach all-time highs. As a nation, Americans are also wealthier than ever, reaching $100 trillion in household worth earlier this year.

But at the same time, the effects of the financial crisis of 2008 still linger, exacerbating longer term trends that have helped shift much of the American financial landscape.

Annual Gross Domestic Product in the U.S., for example, has yet to reach above 3%, while wage growth has remained tepid since 2009.

Here are five other areas that have yet to return to pre-recession levels:

The Average American Household

As a collective group, Americans may be wealthier than ever—but the wealth has flowed more so to the already wealthy than the less affluent.

According to a September study from online financial advisory firm Betterment, about 65% of consumers who were affected by the 2008 financial crisis said they had not yet recovered.

It’s more than just a feeling: Based on the most up-to-date data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, median net worth hit $97,300 in 2016—still below the $120,600 median from 2007. But that’s only for the median. Wealth for the top 10% declined less during the recession, and has since exceeded their pre-recession wealth levels by about 10%.

“This partially reflects the decades-long tendency for wealth gains to accrue mostly to already wealth households,” Deutsche Bank chief international economist Torsten Slok wrote in a recent note to clients. The typical U.S. family was hit very hard in the last recession and has yet to recover.”

Another reason for the divergence: Less wealthy U.S. family often took on more debt to buy a home. So, when the recession hit and lowered home values, the bottom 90% were more heavily impacted by the fallout.

African-American and Hispanic Families

As a whole, African-American and Hispanic families were less affluent leading up to the 2008 Financial Crisis. They earned less annually and had a higher percentage of their mortgages fall underwater during the recession compared to their white counterparts.

As a result, the gap between their wealth and the wealth of white families had continued to widen since the recession.

While the median net worth of white families in 2016—$171,000—was roughly 13% below the group’s 2007 peak, the finances of African-American and Hispanic households fell more dramatically. The median net worth of black families in 2016 was 30% below pre-crisis levels, at $17,150. That same figure was down 15%, at $20,720, for Hispanic families, according to the survey.

Rural Economies

Perhaps mirroring this phenomenon of widening inequality following 2008, the recovery has also largely fallen to more affluent neighborhoods.

“This expansion’s benefits are split between urban and rural areas,” Slok wrote.

Based on a 2017 analysis from the Economic Innovation Group, nearly all of the job growth in this recovery has been in so-called “successful” zip codes—areas with more high school diplomas and lower poverty rates, among other metrics. The top 20% of these zip codes added 2.7 million jobs between 2008 to 2015.

The bottom 80% of zip codes meanwhile shed 1.5 million jobs in the same period.

These shifting metrics follow trends that have existed before the 2008 financial crisis: Namely, declining jobs in areas such as manufacturing and mining as employers opt for cheaper options such as automation.

But the financial crisis of 2018 may have helped speed up the transition for some business owners, says RSM Chief Economist Joe Brusuelas, pushing companies to layoff workers and invest in machinery in the hopes of surviving the crisis.

Young People Are Still Living at Home

Many young people were forced to hunker down with mom and dad in the aftermath.

But that percentage has only risen. According to real estate marketplace Zillow, about 22.5% of people between the ages of 24 and 36 lived with their parents. That figure was 16.1% in 2007.

But the reason for the increase may predate the crisis, even if the meltdown exacerbated the trend.

Traditionally, young people rent homes when they are just entering the workforce. But building rental properties has grown more expensive for developers as zoning regulations have become tougher over time. That’s led to fewer rental properties and higher rents, according to Zillow’s Skylar Olsen, director of economic research and outreach.

At the same time, housing prices have exceeded pre-recession levels, pushing the percent of homeowners in the country down to 64.3% in the second quarter of 2018. In comparison, that figure reached as high as 69% previously.

The Psychological Shadow of the Crisis

Consumers haven’t forgotten the pains.

One major sign: They’re saving more than they did in the years leading up to the recession. While consumers saved about 3.1% to 4.4% of their disposable income in 2007, that figure was 6.7% in July.

“There’s been an erosion of trust and loss of confidence in the economy, and capitalism,” said Brusuelas. “That was the major development post-crisis. So it’s not surprising that the American public has decided to increase its own pace of savings in anticipation of the next downturn.”

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