Economy

In U.S., Job-Market Perceptions Remain Bleak

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Fewer than 1 in 10 say it is a good time to find a quality job

PRINCETON, NJ -- Perceptions of the U.S. job market have not improved in March, with only 9% of Americans saying it is "a good time to find a quality job" -- matching the record low set in February.

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Gallup has asked the public to assess the job market each month since October 2001. Americans have never been overly positive in their assessments during this time, with a high of just 48% saying it was a good time to find a quality job in January 2007; however, perceptions have not previously descended as low as the February and March 2009 readings of 9%. Prior to the current economic crisis, the worst reading had been in March 2003 -- just before the Iraq war began -- when 16% said it was a good time to find a quality job.

Ratings of the job market are almost universally bleak: no major segments of the population -- based on demographic, regional, or political groupings -- are substantially more positive than the national average about the job situation at this time.

Gallup's other key measure of the job market relies on employees' reports of what is occurring at their workplaces, as opposed to more general perceptions about the broader job market. As part of its daily polling, Gallup asks working Americans whether their employers are hiring people and expanding the size of their workforces, laying off people and reducing the size of their workforces, or not making any changes.

For much of 2008, even as the economy began to deteriorate, the value of the Gallup Net New Hiring Index was positive -- that is, employees were more likely to report that their companies' workforces were expanding rather than contracting. But that changed at the end of 2008, and to this day, employees are more likely to say their companies are letting workers go rather than adding more. For the week of March 16-22, 26% of U.S. workers said their companies were reducing the number of workers they have while 22% said their workplaces were adding workers.

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The net score of -4 for the past week is just shy of the 2008-2009 low of -6 achieved several times in recent weeks.

Implications

Just as both Gallup job-market measures were not tanking in the early months of 2008 even as the economy was in recession and consumer confidence was declining, so these measures are not yet responding to the recent uptick in consumer optimism about the direction of the U.S. economy.

It appears that it may take more than a slight bump up in consumer confidence in the overall economy (which remains on balance negative) for Americans to perceive an improving jobs situation.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 5-8, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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