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The 9/11 Attacks Changed Everything About Life in America

On the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, our faculty experts weigh in on how our lives were affected

Posted in: Faculty Voices, Homepage News

poster of American flag where the strips are made from the names of lives lost on september 11

There isn’t a facet of our lives untouched by the events of September 11, 2001. From the historical impact to how Americans changed their behavior toward each other, everything changed – and our experts agree.

Here, they weigh in on just a few ways Americans were affected by the attacks on 9/11.

How 9/11 changed the economy…or didn’t

Luis Portes

Despite the scarring in the U.S. national psyche, the economic effects of the 9/11 attacks were short-lived. While the local economies of the metropolitan areas of D.C. and New York were significantly hit, the size of the U.S. economy, the largest in the world, was back to trend in terms of GDP, the stock market, consumer confidence and the labor market within weeks.

As counterintuitive as this is, it highlights the sheer size of the U.S. economy, which at the time produced roughly 30 cents out of every dollar of world output – now about 25 cents out of every dollar. At a closer look, the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites finance, professional services, information, arts, entertainment, management and manufacturing industries as the hardest hit sectors of the New York economy due to the attacks.
–Luis Portes, professor of Economics and Finance

How 9/11 changed the course of history

Leslie Wilson

It has been said that for Baby Boomers and Millennials, 9/11 is their equivalent to Pearl Harbor. This comparison falls short. Their elders had grown up in an era of wars, and fought to make the world safe for democracy. The Boomers and Millennials had grown up in decades where America was not fighting to save democracy but to expand it. In their minds, they had been living in peaceful times. September 11, 2001, altered the idea for all generations that we could truly live in peace.

The events of 9/11 also made me think about the people you come in contact with daily but don’t really know. People like the security guards, the folks who worked in the cafeteria, and others. You wonder if they were still working there and if they survived. When we write history, we need to include these peoples’ stories in our accounts. They should not die being unknown.
–Leslie Wilson, Professor and Expert on American History

How the War on Terror impacted the U.S.

Francesca Laguardia

The country was already venturing toward the types of invasions of privacy, speech and liberty that we would come to see, but 9/11 cemented that progress, stifling pushback. It highlighted the possibility of successful terrorist attacks, and their impact, thereby not only encouraging existing extremists, but giving isolated, mentally unstable individuals all over our country an idea of a way to feel powerful and important. It is hard to believe our domestic threat would be what it is today without the emotional turmoil, division, and example that the 9/11 attacks provided.

September 11th did not, by itself, introduce anything into our culture – but it fed our worst natures, protected and accelerated our descent away from the rule of law and democratic protections, and created a generation that struggles to imagine we ever lived in any other way.
–Francesca Laguardia, Associate Professor of Justice Studies and Expert on U.S. strategies in the War on Terror

How the Muslim community became a target of hate

Muninder Ahluwalia

The tragedy of 9/11 is not only of the lives lost, but of the terror that continues to be inflicted on those who we deem “not American enough.” Post-9/11, there was and continues to be a backlash against the Muslim community and those who are misidentified as Muslim (e.g.Sikhs). As a Sikh researcher who has studied the backlash, I know it is inextricably linked to the historical and current oppression of other groups. The increase in documented bias attacks, hate crimes and systemic oppression in the U.S. with little justice has further normalized racism.
—Muninder Ahluwalia, Professor of Counseling and Expert on the Sikh Community

How the lives of siblings changed

Jonathan Caspi

The focus of 9/11 was primarily on losing spouses and parents of young children, but thousands of people also lost siblings that day. The loss of a sibling is often an invisible one. I remember being at my grandmother’s funeral and her sister came up to me after and said, “This was the hardest loss of all of them. I lost my husband. I lost many friends. But this one, this was the worst.” It caught me by surprise, but it makes sense.

Siblings are the longest relationships we have. Believe it or not, siblings actually make us who we are. They are the only ones that are there from our beginnings or early childhood into late adulthood. They are the shared witnesses to our lives. Without them, we would be different people. If you had a rebellious older sibling, you are more likely to be rule-abiding. If your sibling was a “goody-goody,” you likely took more risks as a result. Children often shy away from sports when they have a sibling who is a star athlete. They can’t compete and will only pale in comparison, so what’s the point?

When a person recalls a childhood event, they can usually turn to a sibling and say, “remember?” It validates that these events really happened. When we lose our siblings, we lose history. People who lost a sibling in 9/11 not only lost their brother or sister, but lost their witness to their history. They also lost their shared future. I can imagine that a common thought is about how a sibling would have been at future ages. Because it’s our longest relationship, it’s a loss that has meaning throughout our entire lives.
–Jonathan Caspi, Professor of Family Science and Human Development and Expert on Sibling Relationships

If you would like to speak with any of our experts, please contact the Media Relations team.