New poll reveals human cost of US unemployment

Published on WSWS, by Tom Eley, 16 December 2009.

A new New York Times/CBS News poll offers a glimpse of the devastating human impact of the US unemployment crisis.

As massive bank bonuses are due to be announced this month, millions of people have been thrown out of their homes, find it impossible to pay for basic necessities, have depleted limited retirement savings or have lost their health care due to the unemployment crisis.

The survey of over 700 unemployed adults was conducted between December 5 and December 10. Accompanying the survey on the Times web site were self-made computer videos of unemployed workers discussing their problems. 

The poll and interviews illustrate some of the measures taken by unemployed workers to survive. About one quarter of those surveyed have relied on food stamps and one fifth have received help from food charities. Half said that their spouse has taken on extra hours or another job to supplement family income, and 53 percent have borrowed money from family members in order to make ends meet.

Sixty percent have liquidated money from savings and retirement accounts. Among these is Lee Daves, 54, who worked as a machinist making $13 an hour in Springfield, Missouri, until he was laid off in January. His unemployment benefits, which are soon to expire, are not enough to pay for his modest lifestyle. To pay bills, he was forced to sell off his 401(k) retirement account.

One of the survey’s more striking revelations is that nearly half of the unemployed workers in its sample have received no unemployment benefits through the nation’s restrictive jobless insurance system. Among those who have, 61 percent say that this has not been enough money to pay for mortgages, health insurance, food and other expenditures.

Fifty-four percent of those polled by the Times/CBS say they have cut back on medical treatment or visits to the doctor, and forty-seven percent are without health care coverage … //

… It is not only the unemployed who are suffering. A separate Times/CBS poll, also conducted in early December, found that about one third of US workers say that their pay was cut last year as a result of the economic crisis.

And a recent Zogby International poll found that an astonishing 72 percent of Americans already consider themselves poor or can imagine themselves becoming poor (20 percent and 50 percent, respectively). And about half of Americans say they worry about money “most or all of the time.”

“What they’re saying is that they’re one, two or three paychecks away from poverty,” said John Zogby, the CEO of the polling company. “This has a huge implication.”

Dennis Jacobe, chief economist of polling firm Gallup, said “people do not feel safe.” Workers “compare the stock market rally to the economy they are experiencing, there is an atmosphere of unreality,” Jacobe said. “Wall Street gets theirs and the average American doesn’t. There is a sense of unfairness and confusion.” (full text).

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