February 12, 2009

As Jobs Crisis Spreads, Worries Climb the Economic Ladder

Section 1: Unemployment Concerns Surge

When specifically asked about the nation’s most important economic problem, more than four-in-ten Americans (42%) volunteer job-related issues – a far greater proportion than at any time in the past year. Since October, mentions of most other major economic issues have declined, as the public is increasingly focused on the job situation. While fewer now mention the financial crisis than did so in October, 18% continue to cite this as the nation’s most important economic problem.

Pluralities of most demographic groups cite jobs as the most important national economic problem. Employment issues are less frequently cited by those with college degrees than non-college graduates; only 33% of those with a college degree mention job-related issues, compared with 43% of those who have not attended college and 52% of those with some college but no degree. College graduates are nearly twice as likely as those without degrees to cite issues related to the financial crisis (27% compared with 14%) and housing concerns (13% vs. 6%).

Additionally, while about half of women (49%) mention employment issues, only about a third of men (33%) do so. Men more frequently cite issues related to the financial crisis (21% compared with 14% of women). By contrast, in October, there were no significant gender differences on this question.

Jobs More Difficult to Find

Only about one-in-ten Americans (11%) say that there are plenty of jobs available in their community; 80% say that jobs are difficult to find. Since December, the percentage saying that jobs are difficult to find has risen seven points (from 73%). A year ago, about a third of Americans (34%) said jobs were plentiful, while 53% said jobs were difficult to find.

In recent months, there has been a striking increase in negative perceptions of the job market among high-income Americans. Currently, 73% of those with family incomes of at least $100,000 say jobs are difficult to find locally, an increase of 14 points since December. Last July, only 40% of those with income
s of at least $100,000 said jobs were hard to find – the only income category where fewer than half said jobs were scarce.

By contrast, impressions of the local job market were already much more negative among those with low incomes last summer and they have shown less change since then. For instance, 86% of those with family incomes of less than $30,000 now say that jobs are difficult to find up only modestly since December (80%) and from last summer (77%).

As a result, the sizable income gap in negative perceptions of the local market has narrowed considerably since July. At that time, people with incomes of less than $30,000 were nearly twice as likely as those with incomes of $100,000 or more to express a negative view of the local job market (77% vs. 40%). Currently, the difference between the highest and lowest income category is just 13 points (86% vs. 73%).

Jobs Also the Top Personal Worry

When they think about their own financial situation, nearly half of Americans (45%) now cite the job situation as the economic issue that most worries them, up from 26% in December. By contrast, fewer people cite rising prices (22%) or problems in the financial markets (21%) as their top economic worry than did so in December (31% rising prices, 29% problems in markets).

Since December, concerns over the job situation have increased substantially across most demographic groups. However, far fewer people with higher family incomes continue to point to the job situation as their leading economic worry than do people with lower incomes. Slightly more than a third (35%) of those with family incomes of at least $100,000 cite jobs as their top economic worry, as do an identical percentage of those with incomes of between $75,000 and $100,000. By contrast, roughly half of those in lower income categories say that the job situation is the economic issue that most worries them.

Notably, about as many people with family incomes of at least $100,000 cite problems with the financial markets (38%) as their biggest economic concern as mention the job situation (35%). Among people with incomes of between $75,000 and $100,000, 27% cite rising prices and 24% problems in the markets, while 35% mention jobs. For people in lower income groups, the job situation is clearly the top economic worry.