Confidence in the U.S. job market has rebounded to roughly a normal level from its record low after the Great Recession, a trend that could help boost the economy.
Americans increasingly feel they could find a new job if necessary, according to the results of the 2012 General Social Survey, a long-standing poll of public opinion. And fear of being laid off dropped last year from its 2010 peak to roughly its average for the 35 years the question has been asked.
The percentage of Americans who said it would be somewhat or very easy to find a job if they lost theirs rose to 54 percent last year from 46 percent in 2010. The 2010 figure was the lowest since 1983, when the United States was also emerging from a deep recession. On average in the survey's history, about 58 percent of respondents have said it would be very or somewhat easy to find a job.
As layoffs have declined, fewer Americans fear losing their job. Last year, 11 percent of adults thought it was somewhat or very likely that they'd lose theirs. That was down from a record-high 16 percent in 2010. And it matches the 11 percent average the survey has found since it began asking the question.
Americans may be feeling even more secure now than when the survey was taken last year. The number of layoffs fell in January to the lowest level in the 12 years the government has tracked the data. Fewer people are seeking unemployment benefits.
And employers have stepped up hiring, though the job gains slowed in March. Employers added nearly 2.2 million jobs in 2012, an average of about 180,000 a month. That's enough to slowly lower the unemployment rate.
Even though the rate remains high at 7.6 percent, greater confidence among those who have a job could encourage more consumer spending and boost economic growth.
"If you're not afraid of being laid off, you're going to spend more of your money," said Drew Matus, an economist at UBS.
However, the proportion of Americans who expect their children to be somewhat or much worse off financially than they are was 20 percent in 2012, compared with 18 percent in 2010. The record level was 22 percent in 1996.
The General Social Survey has been conducted roughly every two years since 1972. The survey is a project of the independent National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
From mid-March through September last year, 1,975 adults were asked about their financial situation and their feelings about the job market. The results were only recently made available.