In the third quarter of 2008, the U.S. economy was in the midst of the recession that began in December 2007, while the labor market continued a decline that started during the second half of 2007. The third quarter of 2008 saw the national unemployment rate rise to 6 percent and the number of unemployed people reach 9.4 million, an increase of 1.2 percentage points and 2 million people over the fourth quarter of 2007 (all figures seasonally adjusted). Over the same 2007–2008 period, employment was down by almost 1 million people and the employment-population ratio dipped from 62.8 percent to 62.1 percent. Throughout 2008, median weekly earnings grew at about the same rate as inflation.1
This report provides an overview of some of the key sources of financial support of the nation’s people and households during this time. The data offer a window into the roles of government-sponsored benefit programs and the labor market during the downturn. When placed within a wider context, the data can contribute to a better understanding of how public and market-oriented financial-support mechanisms respond to varying economic circumstances, and how the role of government programs has changed over time.
Specifically, this report presents average monthly data on income, participation in government-sponsored social welfare programs and social insurance programs, and labor force activity for people and households during the third quarter of 2008 (July, August, September).3 The data were collected in the first wave of the 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).3, 4 The figures represent the civilian noninstitutional population of the United States in the third quarter of 2008.5
The SIPP interviews a representative sample of U.S. households once in every four months. The survey is capable of producing monthly averages because, in any given interview, it collects information on household composition, income, program participation, and labor force activity for each of the preceding four months.
1 The description and data in this paragraph are based on Borbely, 2009. The data are seasonally-adjusted quarterly averages from the Current Population Survey. The labor force measurements are for people aged 16 or older only.
2 Appendix A describes the procedures used to compute the monthly averages shown in this report. The SIPP data in this report are not seasonally adjusted. The data in Table 7 and in Figures 1 and 2 represent actual monthly counts rather than monthly averages.
3 The SIPP is a longitudinal survey that follows the same panel of individuals over time. The survey is conducted in waves. Data are collected from one-fourth of the sample members (“rotation group”) in each of the four months of a wave. People are asked about characteristics and activities during each of the four months prior to the interview, a time known as the “reference period.” The data for this report were collected during wave 1 of the 2008 SIPP panel. Interviews were conducted from September 2008 through December 2008. See Box 1 for related sources of data.
4 A package of tabulations of annual and monthly data from the 2004 SIPP panel on individual, family, and household programparticipation rates and amounts for 2004–2005 for social insurance and social welfare programs is found at: <www.census.gov/sipp/tables/index.html>.
5 Published data generally comparable with those in this report are available from the SIPP for the third quarter of 1984 (U.S. Census Bureau, 1985). The tables in Appendix C compare selected data in this report with those data (see the text in Appendix C for issues related to comparability).