Economy

Worker Job Security Concerns Spike to New Highs

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Close to half worried benefits will be reduced

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds a dramatic increase in the percentage of U.S. workers who are personally concerned about losing their job. Now, 31% say they are worried about being laid off, up from 15% last year and easily the highest Gallup has found since the question was first asked in 1997.

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Historically, Gallup has not found a great deal of worry on the part of workers about being laid off, with typically about one in six workers expressing concern about this. But the economy has gone from bad to worse in the past year, including an unemployment rate above 9% for the first time since 1983, and up from 5.8% a year ago. And while the majority of workers continue to say they are not worried about losing their job, many more do so now than last year at this time.

The greater concern about layoffs is evident among workers from all demographic groups; however, the increase has been proportionately less among college graduates than among nongraduates.

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Greater worker anxiety stretches beyond basic worries about keeping one's job; Gallup also finds sharp increases from last year in the percentages of workers who are worried about their hours being cut back, their wages being reduced, and their benefits being reduced. On a relative basis, U.S. workers are most concerned about cuts in benefits (46%), followed by pay cuts (32%, and similar to the 31% worried about losing their jobs) and a reduction in hours (27%).

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All of these items have surpassed their previous high measurements by more than 10 percentage points.

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There is one exception to the general pattern of rising concern about one's job over the past year. There has been essentially no change in workers' expressed worry about their jobs being moved to a country overseas (10% in the latest poll, compared with 8% last year).

Bottom Line

The poor economy and high unemployment rate have helped to raise workers' anxiety about their jobs to levels not seen in the past decade, with concerns about being laid off, having hours cut, wages reduced, and benefits reduced all showing double-digit increases since last year.

For the most part, American workers have never expressed a large degree of worry about these types of job-related setbacks, so the sharp increases in worry -- even though this still represents the minority of U.S. workers -- is notable.

Worker anxiety will probably recede once the unemployment rate starts to dip and more workers who want jobs can find them. For several months running, only about 1 in 10 Americans in Gallup Polls have said it is a good time to find a quality job. So the concern about losing one's job or taking a forced cut in income or benefits is likely greater, given the added pessimism about being able to find a new job should it become necessary.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 528 national adults, aged 18 and older, employed full- or part-time, conducted Aug. 6-9, 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 ±5 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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