Regardless of the present economic condition (which seems to be doing quite well all things considered) there have always been clients with limited budgets for their photography projects and there always will be. Most commercial photo shoots consist of creative fees and expenses. So there are two ways to lower the cost of a shoot: get the photographer to work for less money (ask for less usage rights, fewer shots or shooting days, have a flexible schedule etc.) or reduce the expenses, which often means skimping on props, locations, talent and/or crew members.
These are all legitimate cost saving ideas - and just like when you purchase other services you usually get what you pay for.
I recently did a shoot with an agency that allowed for 4 kinds of stylists, 2 assistants, a digital tech, a PA and a few styling assistants. All these people were absolutely essential because we had a very limited time slot with talent and had multiple shots to achieve at multiple locations. There was also a video crew separate from my crew, that had dozens of shots to get through during the same time period. We had a prop stylist prepping our locations, a food stylist prepping all the product for the client, a wardrobe stylist for the main talent and 4 extras and a hair and makeup stylist. Without great planning and all these crew members, the client may have been able to save a few bucks, but they certainly would not have gotten as many pictures accomplished, and they would not have had control over all the elements in the image (props, quality of food styling, wardrobe, etc). This would have led to disappointment on their end, and possibly even a reshoot which would have ended up costing more in the end. Fortunately, this was a savvy client and we were able to work with a full crew. We accomplished everything the client wanted, including a few extra shots and tons of video spots, adding tremendous value. We even wrapped a few minutes early and everyone involved was extremely happy with both the process and the results.
For new photographers - be sure to constantly be building relationships with new potential crew members, they will make or break your project. For clients - look carefully at your estimates. There is often more to the numbers than just who is least expensive - look at how they will be spending your money, and ask them and yourself if you think there are enough crew members on board to make the project a success.