Many Americans Believe U.S. in Still in Recession

Nov. 24, 2009
New Rutgers study says workers lack confidence in the job market

Despite recent reports from economic experts and national policymakers that the recession may be over, most American workers (53%) believe that the U.S. is still in a recession, according to a study entitled "The No Confidence Economy."

Another 29% go further, labeling the U.S. economy as being in adepression. Half of the workers surveyed believe the American economy is undergoing a profound and lasting transformation. These grim assessments come from a newly completed Work Trends study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

Just 12% say now is a good time to find a quality job -- the lowest level reported by the American workforce in more than a decade. Only 20% are confident they could find a job as good as the one they have now if they were looking.

Other major findings of the national survey:

  • About 45% of workers (more than 68 million Americans) now report that they or a family member has been laid off or had their salary frozen or had to take unpaid furlough days.
  • 84% of American workers report that their family has been at least
    somewhat affected by the recession. More than one-third (38%) say the economic downturn has had a major impact on their families, up from 29% in spring 2009.
  • Six in ten say they are spending less now than 12 months ago; over half say they have put off a vacation or work on their homes? The vast majority of American workers (58%) are carrying some debt, excluding their rent or mortgage.
  • One in four respondents say they have borrowed money from friends or family to make it through the recession.

Concerns about Management of the Economy

When asked to choose between "another economic stimulus package even if it causes the debt to increase," or forgoing that approach because "the U.S. can't afford any more debt," workers opposed additional stimulus spending by a margin of better than two to one. Only 24% prefer the stimulus even if it drives up debt, whereas 69% say there should not be a new stimulus package if it increases the national debt.

Moreover, the President is facing criticism from American workers over his economic policies. Half the workforce offers critical views of the Presidents handling of the nations economy. Just 11% feel the President has been doing an excellent job in this area, and another third say he has been doing a good job. One in four says he has done only a fair job (26%); the rest (25%) say his stewardship of the economy has been flat out poor.

"Our survey reflects the growing impatience and frustration of American workers about a recession that has lasted nearly two years," said Dr. Carl E. Van Horn, coauthor of the study. "The President and Congress face a very difficult dilemma. American workers want more jobs, but they do not want the government to borrow more money to pay for programs or tax cuts that might generate them."

Outlook for Holiday Sales and Family Finances Bleak

Dr. Cliff Zukin, co-author of the study noted, "As we head into Black Friday at the end of this week, retailers are right to be concerned. The country's sour economy is putting a damper on holiday cheer and spending plans for American workers. Workers have gone through hard times lately and believe that more are coming."

Having cut household spending, facing substantial debt, and seeing no end to the recession in sight, almost two in three workers (65%) expect to spend less this holiday season than they did last year. About one in four expects to spend the same, and just 9% expect to spend more this year than last.

It's not just the holiday season that looks grimmer than usual. While just under half of U.S. workers (45%) expect their family financial picture to improve over the next 12 months, that is offset by 21% who think their financial condition will get worse in the coming year and another third of workers who are looking to hold even. More than a third say economic recovery is two or more years away.

The American workforce is getting by in this recession through accumulating debt (58%), drawing down savings (46%), postponing planned purchases (55%), and borrowing from friends and family (26%). Eleven percent (approximately 16 million members of the workforce) have missed a recent mortgage or rental payment, and five percent (or 7.5 million) have received a foreclosure notice on their homes.

To view the complete study visit

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!