Firm Leverage and Unemployment during the Great Recession
We argue that firms’ balance sheets were instrumental in the propagation of shocks during the Great Recession. Using establishment-level data, we show that firms that tightened their debt capacity in the run-up to the Great Recession (“highleverage firms”) exhibit a significantly larger decline in employment in response to household demand shocks than firms that freed up debt capacity (“low-leverage firms”). In fact, all of the job losses associated with falling house prices during the Great Recession are concentrated among establishments of high-leverage firms. At the county level, we show that counties with a larger fraction of establishments belonging to high-leverage firms exhibit a significantly larger decline in employment in response to household demand shocks. Thus, firms’ balance sheets also matter for aggregate employment.