PRINCETON, NJ -- Sixty-eight percent of Americans say they know someone personally who has been laid off or lost their job in the last six months -- the highest in Gallup's history of asking this question.
Gallup last asked the question in April 2008 -- during the recession but before the financial crisis that year -- when 54% said they knew someone who had lost their job. It's possible that the percentage was higher in the intervening four years, when unemployment rates were higher than they are today. Other historical high points -- when at least 60% of Americans said "yes" to this question -- include 1994, 2003, and 2004.
"Good Time to Find Quality Job" Views Up Slightly, but Still Mostly Negative
The same awareness of a less-than-optimal jobs situation is echoed in Americans' responses to Gallup's "good time to find a quality job" question. This month, 21% answered affirmatively, while 77% said it is a bad time. Although this 3-to-1 negative-to-positive response ratio paints a bleak picture, Americans' current views actually mark a modest improvement over the situation in prior months.
As recently as last November, 90% of Americans said it was a bad time to find a quality job, tied for the most negative in Gallup's history of asking the question going back to 2001. In fact, the current 77% figure is as low as it has been since September 2008. So views of the job market, while still exceedingly negative on balance, are on a positive trajectory.
Few Workers Think They Will Lose Their Jobs Within Next Year
Despite their awareness that others have lost their jobs, and that the job market currently is not good, American workers largely discount the chance that they, personally, will lose their jobs or be laid off.
Gallup has measured this trend on a sporadic basis going back to 1975. The percentage of workers saying it is very or fairly likely they will be laid off in the next 12 months has been remarkably constant over that time, with only minor fluctuations. The high point of 21% came in April 2010.
At the same time, there has recently been a more subtle change in American workers' attitudes about their job security. Historically, the majority of the broad group who said it was unlikely they would lose their job tended to choose the "not at all likely" rather than the "not too likely" option. This year and in 2010, however, the percentage choosing the slightly less certain "not too likely" option has increased to the point where it equals or exceeds the "not at all likely" option. Thus, American workers appear to be at least slightly more aware that their job -- along with those of perhaps every employee in today's world -- is not totally secure.
These three trend questions asking Americans about jobs spur several conclusions. First, Americans in general have certainly not escaped recognition of the damages wrought by the recession, with two-thirds saying they know someone personally who has been laid off within the last six months.
Second, although they are somewhat less dramatically negative than they have been over the last three years, more than three-quarters of Americans remain convinced that now is a bad time, rather than a good time, to find a quality job. Third, despite these underlying attitudes, most working Americans believe it is not likely that they personally will lose their job within the next year.
Some of this reflects the "optimism gap," wherein Americans tend to be more positive about things that are local and affect them directly than they are about things "out there" in the general society. Humans also have the capacity to reduce cognitive dissonance and convince themselves that they are likely to be the lucky ones -- in this instance manifested in a denial on the part of workers that their jobs are in jeopardy. And of course, workers' positive attitudes about their jobs may simply reflect that even with high unemployment and the job losses of the last three or four years, most Americans who want jobs have them, and most have remained employed throughout the recession.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,016 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.