This is how everyone’s been doing since the financial crisis

September 13, 2013

It's not really a happy anniversary. But we're coming up on the five-year mark for the financial crisis, which accelerated dramatically with the implosion of Lehman Brothers on Sept. 15, 2008.

So it's time to assess how the country has fared since. There are certainly some — those in the finance industry, for example — who can look back and basically breathe a sigh of relief. But many others don't have much reason to celebrate. Here's a rundown:

1) The financial sector has bounced back since the dark days of 2009:

The immediate months after Lehman went bankrupt weren't kind to the banking sector. But the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve soon came to the rescue, and the financial industry made a strong recovery. By 2011, finance and insurance made up 8.4 percent of the U.S. economy, the level they reached at their peak in 2006.

2) The corporate sector as a whole is also doing quite well:

After a big dip during the recession, corporate profits have roared back to a record high as a share of GDP in 2013. In the five years since Lehman fell, corporate profits have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent. (Those are profits after taxes, by the way.)

3) The wealthiest Americans are feeling much better:

The top 1 percent of earners got hit hard by the recession, seeing their incomes drop 36 percent. But they've more or less recovered since, with incomes rising roughly 31 percent. Those stats come from a new paper by Emmanuel Saez at UC Berkeley.

The chart above comes from Annie Lowrey at the New York Times, who notes: "High stock prices, rising home values and surging corporate profits have buoyed the recovery-era incomes of the most affluent Americans."

4) As for the median American family... they're not doing so well:

The median household income in July was $52,113, according to a report by Sentier Research. That's 6.2 percent lower than the median in September 2008, the start of the financial crisis. And there hasn't been much growth since 2011.

That jibes with Saez's research, which notes that incomes of the bottom 99 percent have fallen 12 percent in the recession and have grown just 0.4 percent in the recovery.

5) Workers are faring poorly:

Labor's share of the national income has fallen to record lows. All sorts of theories have been put forward for this trend. High unemployment has held wages down since the recovery. But there are also long-term trends at work, too. Outsourcing and labor-saving technologies have allowed companies to boost profits while cutting payroll. U.S. productivity gains don't seem to be translating into higher wages the way they used to.

6) Labor unions, meanwhile, continue their long downward slide:

Private-sector unions have been in decline for decades, but the recession and recovery have also dealt a blow to public-sector unions. That's because state and local governments have been laying off workers and because states like Wisconsin and Indiana have rolled back union rights for many public employees. Those two states alone lost 102,000 union members in 2012.

7) The picture's even bleaker for people who lost their jobs during the recession:

Americans who stayed employed through the recession have had a rough time, but not nearly as rough as those who lost their jobs. As Ben Casselman reported for the Wall Street Journal, life has been especially grim for the unemployed. Those who've been out of a job for more than 26 weeks are finding it nearly impossible to get back into the workforce.

8) African American and Hispanic men have been hit especially hard by unemployment:


9) Young people are also getting crushed by the lackluster job market:


10) Or we can go by region. The typical household outside North Dakota, Nebraska and parts of Texas has seen its income stagnate:

This map from a December 2012 Census report shows that median household income either stagnated or fell between 2007 and 2011. The only real exceptions were shale- and farm-rich counties in states such as North Dakota and Nebraska.

11) Homeowners are recovering very, very slowly:

There are still 7.1 million American homeowners who are underwater on their mortgage — that is, they owe more than their home is worth. This number has started to come down for the first time this year as home prices rise nationwide, but that was after years of little progress. In Nevada, 36 percent of homeowners still have negative equity.

Further reading:

--Five years after the financial crisis, here's what's fixed and what's not.

--This is a complete list of Wall Street CEOs prosecuted for their role in the financial crisis

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Neil Irwin · September 13, 2013