A statistic like this might be shocking to some. But it’s a reality we need to accept. This finding—along with many others—is from a new book titled Working Scared (Or Not at All), by my client Carl Van Horn, professor and director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. The book documents the changes that have disrupted the U.S. economy and American workers in recent years, based on 25,000 scientific surveys and in-depth interviews with American workers conducted from 1998 to 2012—during one of the most volatile periods in U.S. economic history. (The surveys and interviews were conducted by the Heldrich Center.)
Even the title—Working Scared—is telling. It refers to the many millions of employed Americans who are desperately trying to hang on to their jobs and live in constant state of anxiety. As Van Horn writes, “These Americans are “working scared” because, to them, it seems that virtually every job is temporary, threatened (directly or indirectly) by either technological change or global competition.”
We all know the numbers associated with the recession—high unemployment (at one point, more than 10 percent); lay offs (15 million American workers were let go from their jobs between 2007 and 2010); and jobs that were lost (nearly nine million). But Working Scared goes behind the numbers and offers one of the most comprehensive social science portraits ever developed about the views of American workers about their jobs, the workplace, and the government’s role in the labor market. It puts a human face on the crisis by detailing the personal, financial, and psychological toll on what is a tumultuous period in our economic history.
Here are just a few points that are worthy of broader attention.
- The Great Recession created a silent and invisible mental health epidemic. Over half of the Heldrich Center’s respondents reported that joblessness caused either a great deal or some stress in relationships with family and friends. More than four in ten unemployed workers said that they lost contact with close friends or avoided social situations with friends and acquaintances. (This is unfortunate because one of the most effective ways to find a job is to tap personal and professional networks.) Sadly, many workers aren’t able to cope after facing months and years of rejection.
- American workers who lost their jobs between 2009 and 2011 were re-surveyed two years later. Here’s what the Heldrich Center found: one in three was still unemployed and looking for work; just over one in four had found a full-time job; and one in six were out of the labor market entirely (they had either given up looking, had retired, or went back to school).
- Of all the groups of unemployed Americans affected by the economic crisis, older workers (those aged 55 or older) had the lowest reemployment rate of any demographic group. Not only did it take them longer to find another job, six in ten of the reemployed older workers surveyed earned less than they had in their previous job.
- Nearly half of high school graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2011 were still trying to land a full-time job in mid-2012—including 30 percent who were unemployed and 15 percent who were working part-time. Elevated levels of joblessness are common among the younger demographic during tough economic times but economists are concerned at the sustained levels from the recession.
- A staggering 85 percent of employed and unemployed respondents told Heldrich Center researchers that they had less in savings and income than before the recession. A disturbingly high 62 percent reported having a lot less in their savings accounts. Unemployed older workers’ savings declined by more than half.
While Working Scared paints a powerful picture of the current economic landscape; it also offers detailed recommendations for reducing unemployment and reforming education and workforce policies that will build a globally competitive economy and ultimately produce good jobs for American workers. Working Scared is a wake up call to workers, employers, and government officials that the time to act is now.
If you are a journalist and would like to talk to Carl or receive a free copy write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.