Americans' Unemployment Concerns Are Widespread

(AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
In the last few months, Americans' concerns about economic conditions have turned personal; it's not just broad "economic conditions" that Americans are concerned about -- their worries have extended to their own lives as well.

An early February CBS News poll found a record number of Americans concerned about job loss in their household in the next year -- not surprising, given the loss of nearly 600,000 U.S. jobs in January 2009, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Forty-four percent of Americans said they were very concerned that they or someone in their household would be out of work and looking for a job sometime in the next twelve months -- the highest number since CBS News began asking the question thirteen years ago.

An additional 28 percent were somewhat concerned; just one in four were not worried about household unemployment.

The only other time when concern about job loss approached current levels was in March 1996, when 37 percent reported they were very concerned.

Percentage Of Americans "Very Concerned" About Household Unemployment Over The Next Year:

2/2009: 44%
10/2008: 37%
3/2008: 28%
12/2005: 21%
9/2004: 30%
10/2002: 31%
3/1996: 37%

Concern about job loss extends to Americans from all walks of life, all areas of the country, and all income ranges. But some segments of the population are clearly more worried than others -- most notably, those with lower incomes and less education:

  • 51% of those with incomes under $50,000 are very concerned about a job loss, compared to 36% of those with incomes over $50,000.
  • 48% of those without a college degree are very worried, compared to 31% of college graduates (the latter is still a historic high, however).
  • Half or more of those living in the Northeast and West are very concerned; worries are lowest in the South.
  • Democrats and independents are a bit more worried than Republicans.

    One of the more striking elements of this data is how few Americans from any demographic group are unaffected by worries about job loss. Even among Americans with higher educations and incomes, only about a quarter to a third is not worried about someone in their household losing a job in the next year.

    Percentage Of Americans "Very Concerned" About Household Unemployment Over The Next Year:

    All: 44%

    Income Income > $50k 36%

    No college degree 48%
    College degree 31%

    Northeast 56%
    Midwest 42%
    South 34%
    West 50%

    Men 42%
    Women 46%
    Republicans 38%
    Democrats 45%
    Independents 47%

    One other notable finding sheds some light on just how widespread employment concerns are now. In March 1996 (the last time job worries were high), concerns about job loss were more concentrated among certain segments of the population. Then, 42 percent of those with no college degree were very concerned, but just 19 percent of college graduates felt that way. And while 53% of those with incomes under $30,000 were very concerned, only half as many – 26 percent - of those with incomes higher than that were.

    There was also a significant gender gap in 1996: 42 percent of women were very concerned about a job loss, but just 32 percent of men shared that worry. And in 1996 Democrats were 21 points more likely than Republicans to be very concerned. Now, the difference is just seven points. The increase in concern about job loss this time around has extended to those who were unaffected by such worries in 1996.

    Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys.

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      Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys.