The recession's psychological aftermath persists

Posted: February 08, 2013

The recession is over and the job market is improving, albeit barely, but the psychological aftermath of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression persists, according to a sweeping national survey by Rutgers University.

The majority of those surveyed say they believe that there has been a permanent and painful change in the nation's economy.

Gone forever, they say, are the ability of the young to afford college, of employees to feel secure, and of workers to land good jobs at good pay.

"What this reflects is how wide and deep the whole shock was," said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, one of the study's coauthors.

The survey, which is being released Thursday morning, compares the attitudes of employed and unemployed workers in August 2010, when the unemployment rate had retreated to 9.5 percent from a high of 10 percent in October 2009, to those surveyed in January, when the unemployment rate was 7.9 percent.

"We were surprised," Van Horn said.

"We thought there would be significant changes," he said. "The economy is better, but they are still very pessimistic."

The pessimism is understandable.

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed had been laid off and of those, 54 percent had to accept lower pay to land a new job.

Even though older people were less likely to be laid off, they were more likely to be out of work longer - the survey said that 47 percent of those surveyed believe that the days of the elderly being able to retire without working at least part time are gone forever.

Two-thirds of those age 55 and older who had lost jobs said they had actively sought work for a year or longer or had not yet found jobs. A third of the jobless under age 55 took more than a year to find a job, the report said.

More than 60 percent said it would take them three years or longer to recover financially.

Cheryl Spaulding, cofounder of Joseph's People, a network of suburban church-based support groups for the unemployed, agrees with the study's findings.

The majority of the unemployed people who have attended sessions at St. Joseph's Church in Downingtown and elsewhere say they believe, as she does, that the changes are permanent.

But a solid minority, Spaulding said, clings to the American Dream of a bright future and secure job. They believe they have earned it with clean living, hard work and dedication to their former employers.

"They've done everything right, and they still got screwed," she said.

"They blame everybody. If they are Republicans, they blame the Democrats. If they are Democrats, they blame the Republicans," she said.

Those surveyed by Rutgers blame competition and cheap labor from other countries, with a mismatch of skills to jobs, work being taken by illegal immigrants and Wall Street bankers in a close tie for second place.

Most do not blame the unemployed workers themselves, the report said.

That's probably because, the report posits, 79 percent of Americans have either been unemployed themselves, or know a family member, or someone close to them who had lost a job.

The report "speaks in a loud voice about what they'd like Washington to do," Van Horn said.

The majority, whether employed or not, believe that the United States should give tax credits to companies that hire new workers, closely followed by an increase in training programs to help people change careers.

Contact Jane Von Bergen at, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at .

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