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Economic stress and the great recession in Ireland: polarization, individualization or 'middle class squeeze'?
2014-04, Maitre, Bertrand, Russell, Helen, Whelan, Christopher T.
Following an unprecedented boom that attracted the label 'Celtic Tiger', since 2008 Ireland has experienced the most severe economic and labour market crisis since the foundation of the State. The rapid deterioration in the labour market, alongside stringent austerity measures, had a widespread impact. Considerable debate persists as to where the heaviest burden has fallen. Conventional measures of income poverty and inequality have a limited capacity to capture the impact of the recession. This is exacerbated by a dramatic increase in the scale of debt problems. Our analysis, which focuses on economic stress, provides no evidence for individualization or class polarization. Instead we find that while economic stress level are highly stratified in class terms in both boom and bust periods, the changing impact of class is highly contingent on life course stage. The affluent income class remained largely insulated from the experience of economic stress, however, it saw its advantage relative to the income poor class decline at the earliest stage of the life-course and remain stable across the rest of the life course. At the other end of the hierarchy, the income poor class experienced a relative improvement in their situation in the earlier life course phase and no significant change at the later stages. For the remaining income classes life-course stage was even more important. At the earliest stage the precarious class experienced some improvement in its situation while the outcomes for the middle classes remain unchanged. In the mid-life course the precarious and lower middle classes experienced disproportionate increase in their stress levels while at the later life-cycle stage it is the combined middle classes that lost out. Additional effects over time relating to social class are restricted to the deteriorating situation of the petit bourgeoisie at the middle stage of the life-course. The pattern is clearly a good deal more complex that suggested by conventional notions of 'middle class squeeze' and points to the distinctive challenges relating to welfare and taxation policy faced by governments in the Great Recession.