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The Human Costs of Extending the Recession

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For each day that implementation of the stimulus package is delayed, and the longer the deep recession lasts -- the greater the human and social cost. Much has been made of the devastating economic costs we are facing. Decade of research show that other costs are equally high.

For example, an increase in the unemployment rate of one percentage point that is sustained, and not reversed, for five years, is brings about an increase in homicides of 5.7 percent, in suicides of 4.1 percent, in state mental hospital admissions of 3.4 percent, in state prison admissions of 4.0 percent, according to an often cited 1976 study by Harvey Brenner which was presented to the US Congress' Joint Economic Committee. The relation between recession and homicide was again affirmed in a 1984 Report to the Joint Economic Committee.

Additionally, unemployment is the single strongest predictor in cases where men murder their wives. An abuser's lack of a job increases the risk of femicide fourfold, says a 2003 study reported in the American Journal of Public Health and led by Jacquelyn Campbell at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.

True, in recent months the number of divorce filings in courts across the country has dropped. Marriage counselors and divorce lawyers say that many unhappy couples are putting off divorce because the cost of splitting up is just too much in a time of stagnant salaries, falling home values and rising unemployment. People are "putting off the decision to divorce until the economy gets better... That's been my experience over the last 35 years. When you have an economic downturn people are not so quick to change their situation," states Gary Nickelson, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. You may consider this a silver lining in a nation in which all other measures of social problems are rising, or consider it one reason spousal abuse is increasing. In any case, the longer we allow the recession to drag on, the greater the human and social price people are made to pay, above and beyond the economic costs.

Amitai Etzioni is Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University and author of The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics.
Email: icps@gwu.edu