More than half (55 percent) of all adults in the labor force say that since the Great Recession began 30 months ago, they have suffered a spell of unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours or have become involuntary part-time workers, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Project.
The work-related impact of the recession extends far beyond the 9.7 percent who are unemployed or the 16.6 percent who are either out of work or underemployed. The Pew Research survey finds that about a third (32 percent) of adults in the labor force have been unemployed for a period of time during the recession.
The survey also finds that the recession has led to a new frugality in Americans spending and borrowing habits; a diminished set of expectations about their retirements and their children's future; and a concern that it will take several years, at a minimum, for their family finances and house values to recover.
More than six-in-ten Americans (62 percent) say they have cut back on their spending since the recession began in December 2007; just 6 percent say they have increased their spending. Asked to predict their spending patterns once the economy improves, nearly one-in-three (31 percent) say they plan to spend less than they did before the recession began, while just 12 percent say they plan to spend more. A majority say they expect to spend about what they did before the recession.
About half the public (48 percent) say they are in worse financial shape now than before the recession began; one-in-five (21 percent) say they are in better shape. Grouped by income, those with annual household incomes below $50,000 are the most likely to say they are in worse shape. Grouped by age, those in late middle age (50 to 64) are most likely to say this.
Also, government data show that average household wealth fell by about 20 percent from 2007 to 2009, principally because of declining house values and retirement accounts. This is the biggest meltdown in U.S. household wealth in the post-World War II era.
Not all survey findings are bleak. More than six-in-ten (62 percent) Americans believe that their personal finances will improve in the coming year, and a small but growing minority (15 percent) now says the national economy is in good shape.
These green shoots of public optimism are not evenly distributed, nor do they always sprout from the most likely sources. Several groups that have been hardest hit by this recession (including blacks, young adults and Democrats) are significantly more upbeat than their more sheltered counterparts (including whites, older adults and Republicans) about a recovery both for themselves and for the national economy.
Most Americans (54 percent) say the U.S. economy is still in a recession; 41 percent say it is beginning to come out of the recession; and just 3 percent say the recession is over. Whites (57 percent) are more inclined than blacks (45 percent) or Hispanics (43 percent) to say the recession is ongoing. Republicans (63 percent) are more inclined than Democrats (43 percent) to say the same.
More than a quarter (26 percent) of Americans say that when their children become the age they are now, their children will have a worse standard of living than they now have. A decade ago, just 10 percent of Americans had this concern. Blacks, Hispanics and young adults are more upbeat about the idea of intra-family intergenerational progress than are whites and older adults.
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