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Survey: Americans feeling better about jobs

12:10 PM, Apr 26, 2013   |    comments
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Confidence in the U.S. job market has rebounded to a near normal level from its record low after the Great Recession, a trend that could help boost the economy.

Americans increasingly feel they could find a new job if necessary, according to the 2012 General Social Survey, a long-standing poll of public opinion. And fear of being laid off dropped last year from its 2010 peak to roughly its average for the 35 years the question has been asked.

The percentage of Americans who said it would be somewhat or very easy to find a job if they lost theirs rose to 54% last year from 46% in 2010. The 2010 figure was the lowest since 1983, when the United States was also emerging from a deep recession. On average in the survey's history, about 58% of respondents have said it would be very or somewhat easy to find a job.

As layoffs have declined, fewer Americans fear losing their job. Last year, 11% of adults thought it was somewhat or very likely that they'd lose theirs. That was down from a record-high 16% in 2010. And it matches the 11% average the survey has found since it began asking the question.

Americans may be feeling even more secure now than when the survey was taken last year. The number of layoffs fell in January to the lowest level in the 12 years the government has tracked the data. Fewer people are seeking unemployment benefits.

And employers have stepped up hiring, though the job gains slowed in March. Employers added nearly 2.2 million jobs in 2012, an average of about 180,000 a month. That's enough to slowly lower the unemployment rate.

Even though the rate remains high at 7.6%, greater confidence among those who have a job could encourage consumer spending and boost economic growth.

"If you're not afraid of being laid off, you're going to spend more of your money," said Drew Matus, an economist at UBS.

The General Social Survey has been conducted about every two years since 1972. The survey is a project of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, with primary funding from the National Science Foundation.

From mid-March through September last year, 1,975 adults were asked about their financial situation and their feelings about the job market. The survey's margin of error was plus or minus 2.2 percentage points. The results were only recently made available.

The survey found that confidence in the economy varied by education. Those with college degrees felt more job security than those with less education. And since the recession ended in June 2009, Americans with a college education have reported greater improvement in confidence than those with high school diplomas or less.

Only 6% of college-educated Americans said in 2012 that it was somewhat or very likely that they'd lose their job. That was down from 10% in 2010.

Those with high school diplomas were also more confident in 2012: Twelve percent of this group feared losing their job, down from 19% two years earlier.

But Americans with less than a high school diploma reported little change: 26% felt it was somewhat or very likely they would be laid off in 2012, about on par with the 29% who felt so in 2010.

On whether it would be somewhat or very easy to find another job, 59% of those with college degrees said so, up from 52% in 2010. Among high school graduates, that figure rose to 53% last year from 43% in 2010.

Those without a high school diploma still lack confidence: Only 40% said it would be somewhat or very easy to find new work, essentially unchanged from the 41% who said so in 2010.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • Fewer Americans say their financial situation has worsened in the past few years, though the proportion remains high. A record 37% of Americans in 2010 said their finances had deteriorated. In 2012, that figure fell to 30%, still the second-highest on record.
  • More Americans define themselves as in the "lower class" than at any time since 1972. A record 8% classified themselves as lower class in 2012, the same as in 2010. That compares with the record low of 4% in 1985.
  • The proportion of Americans who expect their children to be somewhat or much worse off financially than they are was 20% in 2012, compared with 18% in 2010. The figure is slightly below the record level of 22% in 1996.

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