Poll: Many unemployed pessimistic about finding work

Although it's not technically a profession, the unemployed must be counted. They say, "Idle time is the devil's workshop." At the top of our list, 15.7 percent of people out of work seek casual sex on OKCupid. These lucky devils get to have all the fun. iStockphoto

CBS News

CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Four in 10 Americans who are unemployed are not confident they will find another job, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll. And three in 10 expect the income and benefits from their next job to be lower than what they received in their last job.

CBS News and The New York Times interviewed a random sample of 445 adults who are out of work and looking for a job, many of whom are struggling to stay optimistic. With the national unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent for more than two years, a majority reported suffering from emotional or mental health issues as a result of being unemployed. One in five has been threatened with foreclosure or eviction.

When asked whether the jobs lost in their community will come back, 41 percent of unemployed Americans said jobs will return when the economy improves. But 46 percent say they won't. Both unemployed Americans and Americans overall are more pessimistic than they were when last asked in December 2009.

A majority of unemployed Americans, 54 percent, say they are confident they will find a permanent job in the next year. But just 23 percent are very confident, and 41 percent are either not very or not at all confident. Those who have been unemployed for over two years are particularly concerned: 54 percent are not confident they will find a job in the next year.

When it comes to expectations for pay or benefits, confidence drops dramatically the longer one remains out of work. While just one in four Americans unemployed for less than a year expects their next job to pay less than their last one, this figure increases to nearly half of all those out of work for more than two years.

More than a third of those seeking work say they have more qualifications than are needed for most of the jobs they are applying for. This percentage rises to 43 percent of those out of work between one and two years - but drops down again to 32 percent for those out of work more than two years.

Four of five Americans cut spending even as 69% say personal situation good
Read the complete poll (PDF)

When asked what they thought was the main reason for their difficulty in getting a job, unemployed Americans cited the sheer number of applicants (21 percent) followed by lacking either the qualifications or experience (16 percent). Other reasons mentioned were ageism (9 percent), companies not hiring from the outside (6 percent) and being overqualified (5 percent).

About a third of the unemployed say they have done occasional, temporary, or part-time work to survive - including a majority of those out of work for more than two years.

Most of those who are unemployed would not consider moving to another part of the country to find a job, but 40 percent would. A slight majority of those who have been out of work a year or more would consider it.

As many as 54 percent of unemployed Americans say their household's financial situation is at least fairly bad, and more than nine of 10 have made some cutbacks to their spending in the past year.

Since becoming unemployed, most Americans who are out of work have borrowed money from friends or relatives (56 percent), and most have withdrawn money out of savings (53 percent). About a third has pursued job re-training or educational opportunities (36 percent) and one in five has received food from either a non-profit organization or a religious institution.

Twenty percent have been threatened with foreclosure or eviction because they couldn't pay their mortgage or rent, including 8 percent who have lost their home as a result. Twelve percent overall have had to move out of their homes and stay with a friend or relative.

Six in 10 unemployed Americans think they won't have enough money to live comfortably when they reach retirement age. This concern is shared by about half of Americans overall.

In addition to the financial strain of looking for work, many unemployed Americans report emotional and social strains. Fifty-four percent say they have experienced emotional or mental health issues such as anxiety or depression as a result of being unemployed, and 51 percent say they felt embarrassed or ashamed as a result - including 23 percent who say they feel this way most of the time. About a third has had more conflicts or arguments than usual with family and friends.

The survey of unemployed Americans, conducted October 19 - 24, has a margin of error of five points.

Unemployment Benefits

As Congress wrestles with whether - and by how much - to extend unemployment benefits for those out of work, most of the unemployed (69 percent) say the federal government should pay extended unemployment benefits for at least 99 weeks, including nearly a third that thinks benefits should be extended for longer than that.

There is considerably less support for extending unemployment benefits among the public at large. Forty-eight percent of Americans say the federal government should extend benefits at least 99 weeks, including only 15 percent who say it should be even longer.

One reason may be that 54 percent of Americans think those who receive unemployment benefits are less motivated to look for a job - a sentiment that is shared by 40 percent of the unemployed.

For Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits, concerns about how long their benefits will continue are personal - seven in 10 think it is at least somewhat likely that their benefits will run out before they can find a job, including a third that thinks this is very likely.

Few unemployment recipients think their benefits are adequate to cover their basic needs. Three in four say the money they receive is a lot less than the income of their previous jobs, and two-thirds say it is not enough to cover the costs of their basic necessities like housing and food.

Unemployment: The National Outlook

Concern about job loss remains high among Americans across the country. As many as 62 percent are at least somewhat concerned that they or someone else in their household will lose their job within the next 12 months, including 35 percent who are very concerned.

The country's unemployment rate has been at or near 9 percent since 2009, and when asked who or what is most to blame for that high rate, 19 percent of unemployed Americans volunteer politicians in Washington -- the top answer. That response also tops the list among Americans overall.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans continue to think creating jobs should be the higher priority for the country right now than cutting government spending, and that number rises to 67 percent among those who are currently unemployed.

On some specific policy proposals the unemployed are similar to Americans overall. Most think it's a good idea to spend money on the nation's infrastructure, cut taxes for small businesses, and give money to state governments so they can avoid layoffs of public employees (even more support this when reference is made to teachers, police officers, and firefighters). Half support repealing or reducing existing regulations on U.S. businesses.

Forty-seven percent of the unemployed support cutting payroll taxes for working Americans - slightly less than the percentage of Americans overall (51 percent). Three in four unemployed Americans opposed cutting corporate taxes, compared with 67 percent of Americans overall.

When asked which political party is more likely to actually create jobs, the Democrats have a 21-point edge over the Republicans among the unemployed, 44 percent to 23 percent. Among Americans overall Democrats have a much smaller four-point edge, 38 percent to 34 percent.

But like Americans overall, most of the unemployed have little confidence that Congressional Republicans and Democrats will be able to come to an agreement on job creation.

Looking Ahead

More than half of unemployed Americans either think the country is headed into another recession or is already in one. A similar percentage of Americans overall agree.

Amid high unemployment and a stagnant economy, there is some concern for the next generation of Americans. Forty-six percent of both the unemployed and Americans overall say the future will be worse for the next generation of Americans.

Still, most remain optimistic that a person can start our poor in America, work hard and become rich - three in four say that's possible. Even two-thirds of unemployed Americans think that's a possibility, while 32 percent say it's not possible.

The poll also included interviews with Americans who are currently working but were recently unemployed. Thirty percent of these newly-employed Americans say it took them a year or longer to find a job, 44 percent say it took three to 11 months, while a quarter say it took less than three months.

These Americans may be back to work, but nearly four in 10 are earning lower salaries and benefits than they were at their last job. Thirty-six percent are getting less in pay or benefits, 20 percent are getting more, and a quarter is getting the same level of wages and benefits.

For more than half of those who have returned to work, their job involves different work than they had been doing, including 38 percent who are now performing very different kind of work.

Among working Americans, 27 percent say their wages have been reduced in the last year because of bad economic conditions. Americans with lower household incomes are more likely to have had their wages reduced.


This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,704 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone October 19-25, 2011. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

The poll includes an oversample of people out of work and looking for a job, for a total of 445 interviews with the unemployed. The results were then weighted in proportion to the adult population as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. The margin of error for the sample of the unemployed is five points.

Results among all Americans are from a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted October 19-24, 2011 of 1,650 adults nationwide..

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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