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Eight ways the Great Recession has changed Americans

More than half of Americans in the workforce have lost a job, taken a pay cut, or faced cutbacks in paid hours on the job as a result of the recession that began in 2007.

More than half of Americans in the workforce have lost a job, taken a pay cut, or faced cutbacks in paid hours on the job as a result of the recession that began in 2007.

According to a newly released in-depth survey, some 55 percent of adults in the labor force have experienced at least one of those job-market impacts of the Great Recession.

By tallying this stark statistic and others, the poll by the Pew Research Center paints a fuller picture of America’s deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Job conditions may be the most significant way the recession has affected American families – but it is not the only one. The survey also measured prominent effects on spending and saving habits, wealth, and even attitudes about the nation’s future prosperity.

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“Here is an effort to look more broadly” at the recession, beyond just the official unemployment rate, says Paul Taylor, a co-author of the Pew report on the poll. The survey covered a representative sample of roughly 3,000 Americans during May.

Eight key findings reveal significant negative impacts, even while optimism about the future persists:

  • Thirty-two percent of adults in the labor force have been unemployed for some period during the recession.
  • Among people who have jobs, 28 percent have had hours reduced, 23 percent have seen pay cuts, and 11 percent say they’ve been forced to switch to part-time rather than full-time work.
  • A “new frugality” has emerged, with 62 percent of adults saying they’ve reduced spending since 2007. Looking ahead, 31 percent say they plan to spend less than they did before the recession began, while just 12 percent say they plan to spend more. A major reason: Households plan to boost savings.
  • Retirement plans are less certain, with baby boomers perhaps the hardest-hit generation. One-third of adults say they lack confidence that they will have enough income and assets for retirement, up from 25 percent who said the same in February 2009. Among workers in their 50s, about 6 in 10 say they may have to delay retirement.
  • Nearly half of homeowners say the value of their house has declined during the recession. Of those who say this, 39 percent say it will take six years or longer for home values – a key source of household wealth – to recover.
  • Some 26 percent of Americans say that when their children become the age they are now, their children will have a lower standard of living than they now have. A decade ago, just 10 percent said that.
  • Optimism about the future persists, but with headwinds. Most Americans continue to view their country as a land of prosperity. But 63 percent expect it will take three years or more for their family finances to recover to prerecession levels.
  • Partisan views on the economy have flip-flopped. During the Bush presidency, Republicans were more upbeat about their economic future than were Democrats. Now with one of their own in the White House, Democrats are markedly more optimistic. A majority of Republicans, but not of Democrats, say the country is still in recession.

That ambivalence is echoed by economists. An official panel has not yet said whether the recession is over, and some who believe it is over now fear a “double dip,” or a second recession.