The Shattered American Dream: Unemployed Workers are Losing Faith in their Futures

The Shattered American Dream: Unemployed Workers are Losing Faith in their Futures

National survey documents impact of prolonged joblessness

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – A new survey of unemployed American workers documents dramatic erosion in the quality of life for millions of Americans. Their financial reserves are exhausted, their job prospects nil, their family relations stressed and their belief in government’s ability to help them is negligible. They feel hopeless and powerless, unable to see their way out of the Great Recession that has claimed 8.5 million jobs.

These are some of the main findings of The Shattered American Dream: Unemployed Workers Lose Ground, Hope, and Faith in their Futures, a new report from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. The Heldrich Center first interviewed a national sample of 1,202 unemployed workers in August 2009, using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel conducted by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif. Just over 900 were reinterviewed in March 2010 and 764 were reinterviewed Nov. 5 to 28, 2010 for this report.

Only one-quarter of those interviewed in August 2009 had found full-time jobs 15 months later.

The survey, coming on the heels of the national election on Nov. 2, finds that only 30 percent of the unemployed feel more hopeful about an economic recovery as a result of the election. When asked to choose between President Obama and the Republicans in Congress in who they trust to do a better job handling the economy, “neither” wins at 41 percent. One third (32 percent) chose the president and far fewer – just 17 percent – pick the Republicans in Congress. Another 9 percent say they trust “both.”

The survey shows that only one-quarter of those first interviewed in August 2009 have found full-time jobs some 15 months later. And most of those who have become re-employed have taken jobs they did not really want for less pay. Moreover, the recession has wreaked havoc on the retirement plans of older workers.

Professor Carl Van Horn, director of the Heldrich Center and a co-author of the study, commented, “Well over half of the unemployed have been looking for a job for over a year, and are pessimistic about their chances of getting a new job in the next year. They face a situation not of their own making and have exhausted all ideas of what to do next to get work and take care of their families. The climate is one of pessimism, tinged with resignation.”

Among the main findings of the survey:

  •  More than half of the unemployed (58 percent) are pessimistic about finding a job in the near future.
  •  By a margin of 61 percent to 35 percent, more feel they will be stuck in their current financial shape rather than making it back to where they were before the recession began.
  •  Three in five (61 percent) say the economic situation has had a major impact on their family; over half say the recession has caused them to make a major change in their lifestyle.

Professor Cliff Zukin, a co-author of the study, said, “The depth and length of the recession’s toll on the unemployed has caused them first to question and now to disbelieve one of the fundamental tenets of the American credo – that people have it in their power to succeed if they work hard enough.”

The Heldrich Center survey of the unemployed finds 57 percent believing that hard work does not guarantee success, and just 40 percent feeling that hard work will lead to success.

To read the Heldrich Center study, visit


Media Contact: Jeffrey Stoller
732-932-4100, ext. 6311