Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Jeremy Pais, Mary Fischer, Simon Cheng

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


The Great Recession and accompanying financial crisis that occurred between 2007 and 2009 presented a host of emergency expenses to Americans with historically low traditional savings while at the same time limiting their access to credit. The resulting increase in poverty and decrease in real median family income raises the question: What if more Americans had access to liquid, emergency funds? The United States’ retirement system increasingly relies on choice-based public policy programs that allow individuals to access their retirement funds by “cashing out” during financial hardship. Proponents of choice programs may expect individuals who cash out of their retirement plan to be more resilient to downward economic mobility while critics are skeptical of benefits that do not account for potential fees and negative long-term effects. This paper uses data from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID) collected between 2005 and 2015 to conduct a stratified propensity score analysis investigating whether retirement decisions made during the Recession mitigated the crisis’ effect on mobility outcomes. Specifically, this paper asks whether individuals, after being matched to groups that have similar labor market positions, socio-economic statuses, and demographic privileges, were able to use cash-out capital to avoid downward income mobility. Findings show little evidence in favor of cashing out on the aggregate or matched-group level. This paper calls for additional research into the potentially unequal consequences of choice-based retirement programs and the function of liquid capital during economic recessions.

Major Advisor

Jeremy Pais