After Great Recession, Americans are unhappy, worried, pessimistic, study finds

Aug 29, 2014
Unemployed workers signing up for benefits.

The protracted and uneven recovery from the Great Recession has led most Americans to conclude that the U.S. economy has undergone a permanent change for the worse, according to a new national study at Rutgers. Seven in 10 now say the recession's impact is permanent, up from half in 2009 when the recession officially ended, according to the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. Among key findings in "Unhappy, Worried and Pessimistic: Americans in the Aftermath of the Great Recession," the center's latest Work Trends report, are:

  • Despite sustained and lower levels of employment, most Americans do not think the economy has improved in the last year or that it will in the next.
  • Just one in six Americans believe that job opportunities for the next generation will be better than for theirs; five years ago, four in 10 held that view.
  • Roughly four in five Americans have little or no confidence that the federal government will make progress on the nation's most important problems over the next year.

Much of the pessimism is rooted in direct experience, according to Heldrich Center Director and Professor Carl Van Horn, co-author of the report.

"Fully one-quarter of the public says there has been a major decline in their quality of life owing to the recession, and 42 percent say they have less in salary and savings than when the recession began," Van Horn said. "Despite five years of recovery, sustained job growth and reductions in the number of unemployed workers, Americans are not convinced the economy is improving. He added that only one in three thinks the U.S. economy has gotten better in the last year, one-quarter thinks it will improve next year and just one in six believe that will be better for the next generation of American workers, down from four in 10 five years ago. The Heldrich Center conducted its survey between July 24 and Aug. 3 with a nationally representative sample of 1,153 Americans. The Work Trends analysis summarizes the effects of the Great Recession by classifying Americans into one of five categories based on how much impact the recession had on their quality of life and whether the change was temporary or permanent. It reveals that:

  • 16 percent of the public, or 38 million people, were "devastated" because they experienced a "major, permanent" change in the quality of their life
  • 19 percent, or 46 million, were "downsized" due to "permanent but minor" changes in standards of living
  • 10 percent, or 24 million were "set back," experiencing "major, but temporary" changes in their quality of life
  • 22 percent, or 53 million, were "troubled" by the recession and endured only a "minor and temporary" change
  • Only one in three of the nation's 240 million adults reported that they were completely "unscathed" by the recession.

Professor Cliff Zukin, co-director of the Work Trends surveys with Van Horn, said, "Looking at the aftermath of the recession, it is clear that the American landscape has been significantly rearranged. With the passage of time, the public has become convinced that they are at a new normal of a lower, poorer quality of life. The human cost is truly staggering."

Characteristics of the American worker

The public paints an extremely negative picture of the American worker as unhappy, underpaid, highly stressed, and insecure about their jobs. Asked to describe the typical American worker, using a list of a dozen words or phrases, just 14 percent checked off happy at work and only 18 percent believe they are well paid. Two-thirds say that American workers are "not secure in their jobs" and "highly stressed." Just one in five say the average American worker is well educated or innovative; just one in three checked off ambitious or highly skilled. And perhaps the most surprising, just one in three checked off that the average American worker is "better than workers in other countries."

Financial and long-term effects

One of the reasons the public does not see the economy as having gotten better is that many remain under tremendous financial stress. Six in 10 Americans describe their financial condition negatively as only fair (40 percent) or poor (19 percent). One-third report being in good shape; just 7 percent describe themselves as being in excellent financial health. Many report significant losses in the Great Recession. Just 30 percent say they have more in salary and savings than they did before the recession started, less than a third have the same, leaving 42 percent who report having less today than five years ago.

Americans view the as causing fundamental and lasting changes in a number of areas of economic and social life. Three in five believe the ability of young people to afford college will not return to prerecession levels, which is significant given the role that education has historically played as a key to upward mobility. Other fundamental areas where a large segment of the public sees permanent changes are: job security (53 percent), the elderly having to find part-time work after retiring (51 percent) and workers having to take jobs below their skill level (44 percent).

Pessimistic about the Future

Americans are also pessimistic about the future. Only a quarter think economic conditions in the United States will get better in the next year, and just 40 percent believe their family's finances will get better over the next year. Consequently, most do not see themselves getting back to where they were any time soon.

"Despite nearly five years of job growth and declining unemployment levels, Americans remain skeptical that the economy has improved and doubt that it will improve any time soon," said Van Horn. "The slow, uneven, and painful recovery left Americans deeply pessimistic about the economy, their personal finances, and prospects for the next generation."

The report found the public sharply critical of Washington policymakers. More disapprove than approve of the job President Obama is doing by a margin of 46 percent to 54 percent. Even fewer approve of the job Congress is doing – 14 percent. A plurality of 43 percent say they trust neither the president nor Congress to handle the economy. Finally, should Republicans win control of Congress in November, only 26 percent say this will help lower the unemployment rate. Thirty percent say this would make unemployment worse while 44 percent say it would make no difference.

Explore further: In an already stressful workplace, Great Recession's health effects hard to find

More information: The study is available: heldrich.rutgers.edu/files/med… ends_August_2014.pdf

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User comments : 17

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siquijorisland
1 / 5 (2) Aug 29, 2014
lets blame the people who created this problem "voters"
orti
1 / 5 (6) Aug 29, 2014
2008 coincides with the election of BHO and leftist hegemony.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2014
America grows by fascism and assassinations. Now world has bett4er options than US-sponsored Ukrainian NAZIs and ISIS Islamics. Using US dollars in trade is like taking the dark back alley to work. Just not worth the chance of being robbered

Just wait until planet stops buying US treasury bills. USA will be more toothless than a meth whore
orti
1 / 5 (6) Aug 29, 2014
Welcome to hope and change.
crass
3 / 5 (2) Aug 29, 2014
"...when the recession officially ended..." Now that was just a lie.

"Despite five years of recovery, sustained job growth and reductions in the number of unemployed workers..." Need I say it again.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 29, 2014
Americans are unhappy, worried, pessimistic

America has had a history of being governed via the creation of irrational fears. Now it looks like these are being replaced with rational fears. 'Mission accomplished' I'd say.

Despite sustained job growth and lower levels of employment

Shouldn't that read '...lower levels of UNemployment'?

Roughly four in five Americans have little or no confidence that the federal government will make progress on the nation's most important problems over the next year.

Is that a new development? That seems to have been the common perception for...well...forever.

One of the reasons the public does not see the economy as having gotten better is that many remain under tremendous financial stress.
Isn't it to be expected that people would be under financial stress till some time afterwards? Recessions are times when you go into debt. Seems plausible to me that that debt doesn't immediately end when the recession ends.
Jixo
3 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2014
after Great Recession, Americans are unhappy, worried, pessimistic, study finds
And the scientists race in presentation of extremely reliable (=trivial) "duh research", which upsets the people even more. Of course, every recession brings elevated risk of suicides and bad mood.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2014
LOL The Poverty of Historicism writ large. "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Reason in common Sense.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Aug 29, 2014
lets blame the people who created this problem "voters"

Sorry, no. It was not voters who created the problem. It was those who see profit in misleading the voters with obfuscation and misinformation (and the money to push it).
Altho, there may some blame on the electorate for ALLOWING that to happen...
kochevnik
2.6 / 5 (5) Aug 29, 2014
US Has Fallen Out of Favor

It has become a militaristic nation. Troops are stationed all over the planet. They represent 37% of global spending on military, nearly four times the next-closest country on the list — China. They've spent a lifetime invading or bombing countries in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Middle East and southeastern Europe.

These actions have left angry masses in the wake. Now the US government lives in fear of retaliation from aboard and they fear financial exodus at home. Thus the government needs to track citizens to be sure they are still loyal patriots and not disguised bad guys. And, they track every financial move because they need to make sure they don't lose a cent of revenue that they desperately need to fund their war debt

They are paranoid and afraid. More and more spy data is needed to make the American government feel safe from it's vessels
Aligo
Aug 29, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2014
They are paranoid and afraid. More and more spy data is needed to make the American government feel safe from it's vessels

That's - vAssels...
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2014
They are paranoid and afraid. More and more spy data is needed to make the American government feel safe from it's vessels

That's - vAssels...


Dang, even I screw up once in a while - vassals...
JRi
3 / 5 (2) Aug 30, 2014
US Has Fallen Out of Favor

It has become a militaristic nation. Troops are stationed all over the planet. They represent 37% of global spending on military, nearly four times the next-closest country on the list — China. They've spent a lifetime invading or bombing countries in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Middle East and southeastern Europe.

These actions have left angry masses in the wake. Now the US government lives in fear of retaliation from aboard and they fear financial exodus at home. Thus the government needs to track citizens to be sure they are still loyal patriots and not disguised bad guys. And, they track every financial move because they need to make sure they don't lose a cent of revenue that they desperately need to fund their war debt

They are paranoid and afraid. More and more spy data is needed to make the American government feel safe from it's vessels


Replace "US" with "Russia" and you got it right.
xstos
5 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2014
When you design your society around greed, this is what happens. The greediest douche bags win.
yukonheart
not rated yet Aug 31, 2014
Look how the economy has improved in the last last 6 years !
kochevnik
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2014
@JRi Replace "US" with "Russia" and you got it right.
Antialias was right most Americans must get their world knowledge from cartoons. FYI China backs Russia on Ukraine. BRICS is a bigger economy that your USA and EU combined. China and Russia could destroy your war-based economy overnight by liquidating their TBills and making the rouble a reserve currency.

But keep talking to yourself. There is even a movie out now about your future called Rover where cultureless losers cannibalize the remains of their ponzi-scheme heydays and obsess about their lost lives. Maybe you and VietVet can clean up with a MaxMax-inspired cabal hoarding "the juice"? Opportunity knocks
howhot2
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2014
Look how the economy has improved in the last last 6 years !

No thanks to the republicans. The republican do nothing congress has been no help. Not a thing that would stimulate the economy or create jobs. They are pieces of trash, every one of them, tea party or not. The economy has improved because the people worked to make it that way and our president focused his efforts and influence in circumventing the republican congressional leadership.