One in eight Americans has lost a job in past 3 years

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: September 01, 2004


One in eight Americans has lost a job in the past three years, a much broader sign of the last recession's impact than is reflected in recent federal employment statistics.

About half of the unemployed people who found work reported that the new job paid less than the previous one, according to a survey of 1,007 adults. The poll, sponsored by Scripps Howard News Service, was conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.

Americans face a complicated jobs picture this Labor Day when trying to assess their economic well-being. The nation's job market has shrunk significantly over the last three years _ but has rapidly expanded in recent months.

The trends allow the major presidential candidates to make completely contradictory, yet basically accurate, economic claims.

"Because we acted, our economy has been growing at rates as fast as any time in nearly 20 years," President Bush said Tuesday in Taylor, Mich. "We've added over 1.5 million jobs since last August. The national unemployment rate is down to 5.5 percent, well below the national average for the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s."

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry cites recent Census Bureau data showing that the median family income has declined by $1,511 since 2000, while 1.3 million more people fell below the federal poverty rate. "I don't believe four years of lost jobs, lower wages, higher health-care costs, higher tuitions and tax cuts for the few are the best we can do," the Massachusetts senator said this week.

The poll tried to put the discomfiture from the recession in perspective by asking a sample of adult residents of the United States if they have "lost a job" in the last three years. The question was asked of everyone, not just those currently employed.

Thirteen percent answered "yes."

Nearly three-quarters of these 131 people said they were able to get a new job. But of these, 51 percent said their new job did not pay as well as the old one, 28 percent said they managed to get a better-paying position and 21 percent said the two jobs paid about the same.

The findings suggest that the current recovery is different from past economic rebounds in that well-paying jobs are not quite as easy to find as they once were. A study by the consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. found that experienced executives under age 50 took an average of 3.8 months to land a job in the second quarter of this year _ 12 percent longer than the average a year ago.

"We have not seen job-search times fall as they did in past recoveries, and the most likely reason is that employers are being especially selective when it comes to adding new people, particularly those at the upper levels of the corporate ladder," said the firm's chief executive, John Challenger.

The Scripps Howard study found that the recession took its toll unevenly, striking some groups almost twice as hard as others. Nineteen percent of young adults in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups reported that they had lost a job in the last three years, compared to only 11 percent of those between 55 and 64.

Nearly a quarter of households earning less than $25,000 experienced layoffs, compared to just 7 percent of households earning more than $100,000. Men, people with no college training, racial and ethnic minorities and single people were more likely to experience unemployment than were women, college graduates, non-Hispanic whites and married people.

There was a political dimension to the unemployment rates. Sixteen percent of voters who describe themselves as "strong Democrats" had suffered layoffs in the last three years, compared to only 9 percent of "strong Republicans."

Nine percent of self-described "very conservative" people have been unemployed recently, compared to 18 percent of the self-described "very liberal."

The survey was conducted by telephone June 20-29 among 1,007 adults living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The poll was funded by a grant from the E.W. Scripps Foundation.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points overall, but the margin rises when an analysis is made among smaller groups within the poll. The margin of error for salary experiences among people who've been laid off and got new jobs, for example, is about 10 percent.