The General Social Survey is a nationally representative survey carried bout by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and financially supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. Starting in 1977 and 1978, and intermittently over the years since then, it has included these two questions:
Thinking about the next 12 months, how likely do you think it is that you will lose your job or be laid off—very likely, fairly likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?
About how easy would it be for you to find a job with another employer with approximately the same income and fringe benefits you have now? Would you say it would be very easy, somewhat easy, or not easy at all?
Back in 1980, Charles Weaver wrote an article about the patterns of the answers in the first wave of this data. He updates the results and looks for patterns over time in \”Worker’s expectations about losing and replacing their jobs: 35 years of change,\” in the January 2015 issue of the Monthly Labor Review, published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Before looking at the results, it\’s useful to ponder what one might expect to find. At times when unemployment is relatively high or the economy has gone through a substantial disruption, for example, one would expect fears over losing or replacing jobs to be higher. But it\’s worth remembering that the 1977 and 1978 were a time of considerable economic uncertainty. The economy was gradually recovering from a recession that had lasted 16 months from November 1973 to March 1975. There were fears related to the global economy, including the rise of OPEC and higher energy prices, the growth strength of competition from Japan, and the end of the Bretton Woods agrreement for stabilizing global exchange rates. Inflation was viewed as such a severe problem that President Nixon had imposed national wage and price controls in 1971 and 1972. Thus, comparing job fears in 1977 and with fears in 2010 and 2012 has some plausibility.
Both simple comparisons and more sophisticated analyses suggests that fear about losing and replacing jobs has been rising over time. Here\’s the simple comparison from Weaver: \”Compared with workers in 1977 and 1978, workers in 2010 and 2012 expressed significantly less job security. They were more afraid of losing their jobs (11.2 percent versus the earlier 7.7 percent) and were less likely to think that they could find comparable work without much difficulty (48.3 percent versus the earlier 59.2 percent).\”
The more detailed breakdown of the data shows which groups have seen their labor market fears increase the most. On the question how likely you are to lose your current job, the answer for the population as a whole rose 3.5 percentage points from 1977-78 to 2010-12. But for blue-collar craft workers the increase was 11.1 percentage points, and for blue collar operatives the rise was 9.7 percentage points. Also, from the early to the most recent survey, those in the age 50-59 age bracket were 8.2 percentage points more likely to think that they were likely to lose their job.
On the issue of whether workers expected to be able to find a comparable job, the answer for the population as a whole dropped 10.9 percentage points from 1977-78 to 2010-12. For those with \”some college,\” but not a college degree, the expectation fell by 23.1 percentage points, and for white collar workers in clerical jobs it fell by 23.9 percentage points. Interestingly, for workers 60 and over the confidence in being able to fine a comparable job was actually 1.7 percentage point greater in the 2010-12 results than in the 1977-78 results.
An obvious question is whether the greater fears about losing jobs and replacing jobs are a relatively recent development–in particular, whether they happened only in the aftermath of the Great Recession–or whether this has been a steady trend over time. Stewart runs through a number of different statistical exercises to consider this point: for example, one can look at whether there was a trend toward greater fears of losing and replacing jobs in earlier time periods (and there was). Or one can look at whether the statistical relationship between the unemployment rate and the fears about losing and replacing jobs has gotten higher over time (actually, this relationship has stayed about the same over time).
Stewart writes: \”In 2010 and 2012, more workers feared losing their jobs, and far fewer workers said that it would be easy to find a comparable job, than in 1977 and 1978. Comparing the slopes suggests that job security diminished more than 3 times as much for ease of finding comparable jobs than for the fear of losing jobs. … Some may infer that the lower job security felt by Americans in 2010 and 2012 was an aberration, based upon the unusual conditions presented by the recent recession. But the reality is that the downward trend in feelings of job security has been going on for the last 35 years, apart from the “extra push” it has received from the “\\`Great Recession,\’ …\”
As I mentioned in yesterday\’s blog post, I think the most powerful fear in the current labor market is not about mass unemployment, but instead is a concern that the available alternative jobs may be of lower quality in terms of wages, benefits, work conditions, job security, and the prospect for a future career path.