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U.S. Workers Still Worry Most About Benefits Cuts

U.S. Workers Still Worry Most About Benefits Cuts

Story Highlights

  • 30% worry about having benefits reduced
  • 20% worry about pay cut, 19% about being laid off
  • Worker worries have eased since 2014 after spiking in 2009

PRINCETON, N.J. -- More U.S. workers say they worry about having their benefits reduced (30%) than worry about having their wages cut (20%), being laid off (19%), having their hours cut back (17%), or their company moving their jobs overseas (8%). Benefits cuts consistently have been the top worry since Gallup first asked the question in 1997. U.S. workers' worries about these possibilities generally have eased since 2014 after rising sharply following the financial crisis and staying elevated during the ensuing period of high unemployment.

U.S. Workers' Worries About Possible Job Setbacks

The data are based on Gallup's annual Work and Education poll, conducted each August. U.S. workers' concern about having their benefits cut spiked to 46% in 2009 and did not show sustained recovery until falling to 34% in 2014. The 30% who worry about benefits reductions today is essentially back to where it was before the September 2008 financial crisis.

Workers' concerns about having their wages cut or their hours reduced remain at least slightly higher than they were at any point before the 2007-2009 recession. While the 19% worried about being laid off is also higher than just before the financial crisis (15%), it is similar to what Gallup measured in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Relatively few American workers worry about their company moving jobs overseas -- the one concern that did not dramatically increase after the financial crisis.

Nearly Half of Government, Union Workers Fear Benefits Cuts

Government workers and unionized workers are significantly more likely than nongovernment and nonunion workers to worry about having their benefits reduced. According to combined data from the 2014-2016 Work and Education surveys, 46% of government workers and 45% of union workers say they worry their benefits will be reduced. That compares with 32% of those employed by a private company and 31% of nonunion workers.

Government workers, many of whom are also unionized, often have more generous benefits packages than private sector workers, and thus more to lose if their employers cut benefits. Previous Gallup research showed government workers and, to a lesser extent, union workers are more satisfied with their retirement, health insurance and vacation benefits than nongovernment and nonunion workers, respectively.

Gallup consistently has found a gap between union and nonunion workers' concerns about having their benefits cut, perhaps because each new round of collective bargaining brings the possibility of reduced benefits.

By contrast, government and private sector workers had similar levels of worry about benefits reductions before the financial crisis. Both groups grew more concerned from 2009 to 2013 about losing their benefits, but the increase was sharper among government workers. Government workers may have grown more concerned because government spending drew greater scrutiny as many state governments struggled to balance their budgets and the federal debt became a more salient political issue in those years. Now, private sector employee worries about benefits cuts are essentially back to where they were before the financial crisis, while government workers' worries remain significantly higher than before.

Percentage of Government vs. Private Sector Workers Worried About Having Their Benefits Reduced
2005-2008 2009-2013 2014-2016
% % %
Government workers 33 56 46
Private sector workers 30 41 32
Aggregated data from Gallup annual Work and Education polls

The combined 2014-2016 data also reveal that concerns about job setbacks vary for different types of workers.

  • Part-time workers (36%) are twice as likely as full-time workers (17%) to say they worry their hours will be cut back. In fact, a reduction in hours is part-time workers' top worry, surpassing benefits cuts (30%), being laid off (27%), and having their pay cut (23%).
  • Professionals or executives (12%) are far less likely than blue-collar workers (26%) and white-collar workers who are not professionals or executives (22%) to worry about having their hours cut. Most professional and executive workers report they are paid a salary while most blue-collar (and nonprofessional/executive white-collar) workers say they are paid by the hour.
  • Blue-collar workers are also most likely among employee groups to worry about their company moving jobs overseas, although the 14% who worry is still small on an absolute basis. In comparison, 5% of professional workers and 7% of nonprofessional white-collar workers worry that their company will move jobs overseas.

Aside from these differences, the various employee groups express generally similar worry about the other job setbacks tested in the survey.

Implications

It is clear the financial crisis and periods of high unemployment caused an increasing number of U.S. workers to feel insecure in their jobs, including worrying about their pay, benefits and whether they would keep their jobs at all. Those fears remained elevated for several years after the recession before finally showing some signs of receding in the last three years. Americans' various job worries are not all back to prerecession levels, but those that haven't already recovered are getting closer to that mark.

A lasting effect of the recession appears to be heightened worry about benefits cuts among public sector employees. Some state and local governments have struggled to balance their budgets and have been forced to re-examine whether they can pay promised levels of retirement and health benefits for current and past employees. As a result, some governments have proposed benefits cuts as a way to close budget shortfalls, which persist in some states and localities even as the economy has improved in recent years.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 3-7, 2016, with a random sample of 521 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, who are employed full or part time. For results based on the total sample of workers, the margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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