Profound weight of layoffs found in workplace survey

Nearly a quarter say they had been laid off
in recession, and 80% knew someone jobless

Layoffs have touched nearly every American household in some fashion over the last few years, according to new survey data to be released Thursday by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

While about 8 percent of Americans are unemployed, nearly a quarter of Americans say they were laid off at some point during the recession or afterward, according to the survey. More broadly, nearly eight in 10 say they know someone in their circle of family and friends who has lost a job.

"This to me is why the recession was so all-consuming and is likely to influence the American psyche," said Cliff Zukin, a public policy and political science professor at Rutgers and co-author of the report. "Almost everyone, 4 out of 5, were directly or one step removed from unemployment and all that goes with it financially, socially, psychologically."

The survey presented a bleak view of the economic future.

A majority of Americans say they think it will be at least six years before the economy is made whole again, if ever. Three in 10 said the economy would never fully recover from the Great Recession.

"Despite significant improvements in the nation's labor market, American workers' concerns about unemployment, the job market, job security and the future of the economy have not changed much since we conducted a similar survey in August 2010," the report said.

Just a third of Americans surveyed in this poll, conducted from Jan. 9-16, said they thought the economy would be better next year, the same share that said so two years earlier.

Of those laid off in recent years, nearly a quarter said they still had not found a job. Re-employment rates for older workers have been particularly bad, with nearly two-thirds of unemployed people 55 and older saying they actively sought a job for more than a year before finding one or had still not found work.

Not surprisingly, those who are unemployed are especially downbeat about many economic issues in addition to their own finances. Of those who were jobless and looking for work, 31 percent said their jobless benefits had run out and 58 percent said they were concerned that their benefits would run out before they found work.

Of those who have found work, nearly half say their current job is a step down from the one they lost, and a slim majority say they earn less than they did in their previous job. A quarter of those re-employed said they thought that the hit to their standard of living would be permanent.

Americans overall were also somewhat less critical of bankers this time than they were two years earlier. About 1 in 3 (35 percent) respondents attributed high unemployment levels to the actions of Wall Street, compared with 45 percent in 2010.

Americans were most likely to attribute high unemployment to cheap foreign labor. Four in 10 also said they believed illegal immigrants were taking Americans' job opportunities, which does not bode well for political support for an amnesty program now being discussed in Washington.

Most people surveyed lost at least some of their savings. Asked about their financial health, six in 10 Americans said their finances would not improve in the next few years; just 16 percent said their family finances were already back to pre-recession levels or suffered no loss in the first place.

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