Where We’re Spending Now

Surging unemployment, tight credit and depressed housing prices are common components of a recession. But rarely do they occur at once, like now, and endure for so long. This sweeping economic trifecta is probably the most unusual aspect of the slump. But it is hardly the only oddity. Things just aren’t going as you’d expect in The Great Recession. The rules for tough times are being rewritten almost daily, giving rise to a vast range of forecasts as to when we’ll snap out of this funk. Will it be soon? Late this year? Not until 2010? Will the recovery be V-shaped (strong down, strong up), W-shaped (down, up, down, up) or U-shaped (long bounce along the bottom before expansion returns)?

Some things we do know. The recession has folks embracing volunteerism and green initiatives like never before — just when you might think they’d be focusing on themselves. “Financial setback seems to spur the desire to do the right thing,” concludes a July report from research firm Packaged Facts. People are acting more shrewdly too. Anecdotally, we’ve seen certain medical elective procedures like knee replacements and gum surgery spike — not fall as you would expect — as employees fearing for their jobs rush to take advantage of a good health plan before they lose it. And just when you might think the divorce rate would spike as couples cope with added stress, the rate appears ready to fall. Divorce cases are down 40%, according to a recent poll by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Couples who aren’t in love seem to prefer the safety net of a working spouse to their freedom. Here are some other ways this recession is rewriting the rules.