Recession's Toll Is Written in Cutbacks, Layoffs and Worry

Across the country's kitchen tables, this recession is written in cutbacks, layoffs -- and pure worry.

Job insecurity is at its worst in 33 years of polls; holiday spending plans, their worst in data back 23 years. Americans report cuts in work hours and pay, and concerns about making the rent or mortgage, heating the house, paying for retirement. In all, it's an extraordinary loss of confidence -- with repercussions in families across economic and political lines.

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Sixty-three percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll now think the country is in a "long-term economic decline," up from 49 percent 10 months ago; just a third say the economic system is still "basically pretty solid." And while economic distress tends to be greatest among lower-income Americans, the biggest increase in views of a long-term decline has been among the better-off, who have been hammered by the stock market.

HURT FINANCIALLY

An identical 63 percent say they themselves have been hurt financially by this recession, 10 points higher than the damage in the recession of 1990-91. Three in 10 say they've been hurt "a great deal," double what it was just after that recession 17 years ago.

Two-thirds of Americans are worried about maintaining their standard of living, up from 51 percent a year ago -- nearly a 30 percent increase. One in four is "very" worried. On this, as in several measures, there's an economic gender gap: Seventy-four percent of women are worried about maintaining their living standard, vs. 57 percent of men.

For many, these worries are more than theoretical: Twenty-seven percent -- more than one in four -- say they or someone in their household have had their pay or work hours cut in the last few months. Eighteen percent, nearly one in five, say someone in their household has lost a job lately.

Far more, 51 percent, say they've been hurt in the stock market rout -- up from 43 percent just two months ago and more than half for the first time in ABC/Post polls dating to 1987. That soars to two-thirds of higher-income adults, who are more apt to have stock investments.

And less than half of Americans, 46 percent, are confident they'll have enough money to retire, down from a high of 69 percent three years ago. Just 15 percent are now "very" confident they'll have sufficient retirement income.

INSECURITY: JOBS AND MORE

Some have more immediate worries. Among people who are currently employed, 21 percent -- one in five -- are worried about getting laid off -- nearly double what it was a year ago, and the most in polls dating back to 1975.

If they were to get laid off, moreover, nearly half, 47 percent, think it's unlikely they could find another job as good -- the most in polls back seven years. Of the rest, just 22 percent call it "very" likely they could get another job as good as the one they have now. That uncertainty peaks among older workers and people in union households.

But insecurity extends beyond employment. Examples:

Fifty-three percent are concerned about being able to afford health care for themselves or a family member; a third are "very" worried. Concern jumps to 59 percent among women, compared with 46 percent of men. And it rises to 75 percent among lower-income Americans; a majority in this group is very worried.

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