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

Some of the worst numbers in decades show a nation insecure in its future.

ByABC News
December 15, 2008, 12:03 PM

Dec. 17, 2008— -- 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.

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.