PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite the overwhelming tsunami of bad economic news sweeping over Americans in recent months, 68% of workers say they have not been laid off in the last six months and are not worried about being laid off in the near future.
This question was part of a series included in the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 USA Today/Gallup poll, which asked employed Americans about five different job-related consequences of the bad economy.
A small 2% of current full- or part-time workers say they have been laid off in the last six months. (This number is very low because workers who had been laid off and had not found a new job would not be included in the base of currently employed workers to whom this question was addressed.) Another 29% of workers say they are worried that they will be laid off, leaving a clear majority of 68% of workers who are apparently unworried (or at least not concerned enough to tell a survey interviewer they are worried).
This is a classic case of interpretation. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Almost all economic news Gallup measures on a continuing basis has been very negative for months now. That includes the current 80% of those interviewed in Gallup Poll Daily tracking who say the economy is getting worse rather than getting better, and a Gallup update in January showing that 86% of Americans say it's a bad time to find a quality job. From this perspective, it might seem surprising that two-thirds of workers seemingly remain optimistic and claim not to be worried about being laid off despite the current economic environment. And, more broadly, the data provide another example of Americans' tendency to be much more robustly positive about their own personal situations than they are about the situation "out there," across the country.
But these numbers can also be viewed from a more negative perspective. Past Gallup Poll questions have found lower percentages of workers claiming they were worried about being laid off, suggesting that the current percentage reflects a deterioration in the jobs situation. Between 2003 and 2008, only between 14% and 20% of workers said they were worried about being laid off in the near future. (The most recent such survey, conducted last August, found 15% worried that they would be laid off.) Given the differences between these surveys and the current survey in terms of context and question wording, these older trends cannot be precisely compared to the current data. Still, even if the older data are used as only a rough baseline, it would appear that the current 29% worried (and 2% who have been laid off) is high on a relative basis.
The current poll included questions about four other work-related situations in addition to losing one's job.
Notably, 12% of workers say their hours have already been cut back within the last six months, 9% say their benefits have been reduced, 8% have had their wages reduced, and 2% say their companies have outsourced jobs overseas. Adding these numbers to the percentage who are worried about these events occurring in the near future yields net "worried"/"already happened" percentages between 10% and 40%. Still, as is the case for the data on job layoffs, from a more positive perspective, these data also show that the clear majority of American workers are not worried about these events transpiring.
Friends and Relatives
At the same time, separate questions in the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 poll reinforce the degree to which the public has at least been personally confronted with the jobs problem in American society (even if many of those working do not appear to be highly concerned about their own situations). Forty-one percent of Americans say that they themselves, another person living in their household, or a close friend or immediate family member has lost a job within the last six months. When the question is expanded to include distant relatives or friends, a larger total of 63% know someone who has lost a job.
One note of interest is the difference by partisanship in the responses to the question asking whether respondents or some member of their households has been laid off or lost a job in the last six months. Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to respond in the affirmative, no doubt reflecting in part that Democrats have significantly lower incomes on average than do Republicans.
Many of today's economic statistics can be looked at from two different perspectives. While January's 7.6% unemployment rate is very high by historical standards, it still indicates that well over 90% of Americans who want work have a job. Similarly, although the 29% of Americans who say they are worried about losing their jobs (and the 2% who say they have lost a job within the last six months) is very high, the fact that 68% of Americans are not worried about losing their jobs could be seen as a sign of psychological worker resilience.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,027 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 541 adults employed full- or part-time, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.