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The Economic Deterioration of the Family: Historical Contingencies Preceding the Great Recession


  • Michael D. Gillespie Ph.D.

    1. Eastern Illinois University
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    • I extend my gratitude to Susan M. Carlson for her ongoing support, feedback, comments, and camaraderie. I would also like to thank Steve Pressman and Robert Scott for their comments, Terrence McDonough for his encouragement, and the important and critical comments received from the peer reviewers.


The “Great Recession” in the United States exposed contradictions between the economic well-being of families and capital that developed in the decades prior to this latest downturn. Using social structure of accumulation theory, a qualitative institutional analysis, and quantitative time-series models, this article investigates historically contingent relations between the nature of public assistance, family economic deterioration, and capital accumulation. To sustain the circuit of capital, I argue that the family propped up economic growth first through public cash assistance and then through private expenditures, the latter of which lead to the economic deterioration of families dependent on unprecedented levels of debt.