May 7, 2008

Hard Hats See Hard Times

Rising Worries About the Job Market

by Michael Dimock, Associate Director for Research, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

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While the latest labor statistics reported fewer job losses than analysts expected, the American public is expressing increasing concern about job availability. But those worries are not as widespread as in the 1992 election-year downturn, when majorities at all income levels judged jobs to be in short supply. Instead, today’s worries are far more heavily concentrated in the lower portions of the income spectrum.

By a ratio of two-to-one, more Americans say that jobs are difficult to find in their area (61%), than say there are plenty of jobs available (30%). This represents a substantial shift since November of last year, when fewer than half (48%) said jobs were difficult to find, and nearly as many (41%) said plenty were available.

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Job concerns are closely related to a person’s income and education levels. Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) Americans with household incomes under $30,000 annually say that jobs are difficult to find in their area, up 17 percentage points from the 61% recorded last November. By comparison, among Americans with incomes of $75,000 or more fewer than half (46%) say jobs are difficult to find, up only seven points since last November. Similarly, roughly seven-in-ten (71%) Americans with a high school degree or less see limited job opportunities in their area, compared with 51% of those with a college degree.

Public views of the job situation vary across regions of the country. Concerns are highest in the Midwest, where 68% say jobs are difficult to find, compared with 64% in the Northeast, 60% in the South and 56% in Western states. Job concerns have risen, however, in all parts of the country.

Fully 75% of Americans living in rural areas say that jobs are difficult to find, compared with just 59% and 57% of those living in suburban and urban areas, respectively.

Higher Income and More Educated Not Feeling the Pinch

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While the impression that jobs are scarce has risen substantially in recent months, it is still far below the levels seen in the 1992 election cycle. In May 1992, fully 77% said jobs were difficult to find in their area, compared with 61% today. And just 16% said plenty of jobs were available at that time in 1992, compared with 30% today.

The difference between 1992 and 2008 is that a far larger divide is now seen between how higher and lower income Americans look at the job situation today. In May 1992, wide majorities across all income levels felt that jobs were difficult to find where they lived, including seven-in-ten Americans with relatively high incomes ($50,000 or more). By contrast, those earning $75,000 or more today are divided in their view of jobs — 46% say they are hard to find, but 44% say plenty are available. Only as incomes get lower is the impression that jobs are scarce widespread.

Similarly, during the economic downturn of 1992, Americans felt jobs were scarce regardless of their own education levels. While those with no more than a high school education felt this most strongly (79% said jobs were difficult to find), those with a college degree largely agreed (72%). Today, the education gap is substantially larger, as 71% of those who did not attend college see jobs as scarce, compared with barely half (51%) of those with a college degree.

Partisan Divisions

Views of the job situation continue to differ along partisan lines. Currently, 69% of Democrats say jobs are difficult to find in their area, as do 65% of independents. By comparison, about half (49%) of Republicans. This gap has persisted since November, even as the impression that jobs are scarce has risen across party lines.

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About the Survey

Results for this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Abt SRBI, Inc. among a nationwide sample of 1,502 adults, 18 years of age or older, from April 23-27, 2008. The error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence based on the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

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