Survey: Young people hurt most by recession

WASHINGTON — The worst economic slowdown in decades hurt more than half of Americans, especially younger people, minorities and those with a high school education or less, a Pew Research Center survey found.

"For a narrow majority of Americans, 55 percent, the Great Recession brought a mix of hardships, usually in combination: a spell of unemployment, missed mortgage or rent payments, shrinking paychecks and shattered household budgets," according to the survey released Friday in Washington. "But for the other 45 percent of the country, the recession was largely free of such difficulties."

The survey, taken May 11-31, reflects the responses of 2,967 people to eight questions designed to measure economic hardships experienced during the recession. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

Demographics largely distinguished people who "lost ground," including those who lost jobs, had trouble paying rent or had to borrow money from family or friends to pay bills, the survey found. White people, older people, the better educated and the more affluent were significantly less likely to report they made major lifestyle changes because of the economy, the survey said.

Almost half of all white respondents surveyed "held their own" during the recession compared with 33 percent of blacks and 29 percent of Hispanics. Additionally, older adults were "more sheltered" than younger people: about seven in 10 people age 65 and older "held their own," the survey said.

Only 47 percent of people in the eastern United States lost ground during the recession compared with almost 60 percent of the population feeling financial stresses in the Midwest, South and West, the survey said. The recession adversely affected a smaller proportion of suburban and rural residents than those in cities.

Almost two-thirds of those who fared worse withdrew money from savings and retirement funds, while 43 percent were jobless at some point during the recession, the survey found.

The half that better weathered the slump reported few instances of declining family income, a need to withdraw money from savings and retirement to pay bills or of deteriorating finances, the survey found. Less than 1 percent said they were unemployed.

The recession most affected people's spending habits, according to the survey. Slightly more than half of those who faced no major struggles during the recession reported their single biggest adjustment was in spending, compared with 33 percent of those who lost ground.

About half the people in both groups reported declining home values. About eight out of 10 people surveyed said they believe that "buying a home is the best investment that the average person can make."

The Pew Research Center calls itself a non-partisan "fact tank" providing "information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world," according to the Washington-based organization's website. Pew's Social & Demographic Trends project carried out the survey.