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Job trends: Great Recession still colors outlook, fears

Julia Pollak,

During the Great Recession and the ensuing years of economic turmoil, employers had all the leverage in hiring negotiations. Most job seekers had two choices: take it or leave it.

But the current labor market landscape is very different. We have experienced almost 100 consecutive months of job gains and, at 3.7 percent, unemployment is the lowest it has been in nearly 50 years. Job openings exceed unemployed job seekers by more than 1 million.

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, however, a new survey of 50,000 job seekers by ZipRecruiter reveals the Great Recession left lingering scars for America’s workforce. While job seekers are generally optimistic about the future, many feel pressure to accept the first job offer they receive, lack the confidence to negotiate for higher pay, and are anxious about the prospect of job losses and recessions to come. 

Pressure to accept first offer

Typically when unemployment is this low, only a small share of job seekers are unemployed and a larger share is currently working, which means they can take their time, apply to multiple jobs and be picky.

However, 44 percent of the job seekers we surveyed were not currently employed. And 46 percent of those who were working said they were unable to make ends meet on their current salaries. Among job seekers who were not working, 4 in 10 said they feel financial pressure to accept the first job offer they receive. That figure rises to almost 6 in 10 among Americans ages 18 to 24.

Unhappy with pay, not asking for more

Large numbers of survey participants expressed dissatisfaction with pay, which is a major factor responsible for broader job dissatisfaction. Forty percent of currently employed job seekers are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their current compensation packages, and 30 percent are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their current jobs. Poor management and no room for growth were the leading causes of job dissatisfaction, each cited as important by 57 percent of respondents, but low pay (53 percent) and poor benefits (35 percent) were the next most frequently cited reasons.

Nevertheless, job seekers appear to find it costly to switch jobs. On average, they say they would need to be offered 33 percent more pay than they are currently earning to take another job near their home, and 53 percent more pay than they are currently earning to take another job in a different city or state. 

Biggest fears: Recessions, job loss

When we asked job seekers what they are most afraid of when they think about the future, 43 percent said losing their job or experiencing an economic downturn.

Minorities and younger Americans appear to have paid a higher price for living through the Great Recession. African-Americans and Hispanics reported a greater fear of job loss than their white counterparts, regardless of their employment status and education levels: 52 percent of African Americans and 50 percent of Hispanics rated losing their job or an economic downturn as their greatest fear, compared with just 37 percent of whites.

Fears of recession and job loss are also negatively associated with age, with 67 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 listing it as their greatest fear, compared with 38 percent of respondents ages 45 to 54. Young people may have a more pronounced fear of recessions because the Great Recession was such a salient event in their lifetime.

Despite lingering fears, there is a great deal of optimism among job seekers. When asked what they are most excited about in the future, 39 percent said progressing in their careers and 26 percent said making a higher salary. Fifty-one percent agreed that there were more good job opportunities available today than in the past.

Job seekers are demonstrating their optimism about the availability of more attractive opportunities by quitting their jobs at the highest rate recorded since the U.S. Department of Labor began collecting the data in late 2000. A full 39 percent of employed job seekers in our survey said they plan to quit their current job within the next 12 months.

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