WASHINGTON -- At its worst point during the Great Recession, the national unemployment rate reached 10 percent in October 2009. But a new survey by The Huffington Post and YouGov finds that most Americans have experienced unemployment at some level in the past five years.
And perhaps that experience is why few Americans have confidence in political parties' abilities to address the ongoing unemployment crisis.
"We have a horrible unemployment and underemployment situation, and we don't want to step on corporate toes because then you're against the capitalist system," jobless retail industry analyst George Romey said in an interview. "Companies used to use layoffs when business was bad. Now they use layoffs to boost the bottom line."
Romey, 53, lost his job in February and is unsure how fast he'll be able to find a new one. He's already making plans to move from New York to live with his brother in Florida to save money.
Sorting out one's life post-layoff these days is part of the American experience. The survey finds that 23 percent of Americans have been unemployed and looking for work at some point in the past five years, and another 35 percent have someone in their immediate family who'd been jobless.
The survey results are similar to earlier findings by researchers at the Rutgers University John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, who found in 2010 that 56 percent of Americans had either lost a job or had a family member who lost their job.
Whether they've been impacted by the crisis or not, Americans have little confidence in either political party to handle reducing unemployment. Only 10 percent of respondents said that they were "very confident" in either the Republican or Democratic parties to handle the issue. Fifty-six percent said they were either "not very confident" or "not confident at all" in the Democratic Party's ability to handle the issue, while an almost identical 57 percent said the same about the Republican Party.
Among those who have been unemployed in the last five years, 55 percent said that they are either not very confident or not at all confident in the Democratic Party's ability to handle unemployment, and 64 percent said the same about the Republican Party. But among those who have neither been unemployed themselves nor know someone who has, 63 percent are not very or not at all confident in the Democratic Party and 50 percent said the same about Republicans. Those differences may be driven more by the party identification of those who have been unemployed or know someone who has been.
Republicans were less likely than Democrats or independents to say that they had personally been unemployed, but more likely to say that someone in their immediate family had been. That may be in large part because older Americans are both more likely to be Republicans and less likely to say they have themselves been unemployed. The unemployment rate for workers 55 and older is lower than it is for the broader workforce.
Although many Americans said they were either very or somewhat confident in one party or the other to handle unemployment, about a quarter said they were not confident in either party.
The two parties are rated almost equally on the unemployment issue even though, overall, the survey shows that the Democratic Party is somewhat more popular than the Republican Party. Forty percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, while 33 percent said the same about Republicans.
As for Romey, he said he had little faith in either party, though he had a bit less faith in Republicans.
"The GOP in my mind is just strictly taking care of plutocrats, and while maybe some Democrats have good intention, in some ways they are just as hopeless," Romey said, noting that both parties harbor ties to lobbyists and an aversion to seeming anti-business.
Romey said he'd been in his job 13 years when he received his layoff notice last month. He figured his company let him go in order to replace him with someone younger who will work for less money, and that a preference for younger workers throughout corporate America will make it harder to find a new job.
"Sometimes you're told you're overqualified and while companies can't obviously discriminate, you get the vibe they want a 30-year-old, not a 50-year-old." he said. "I never imagined I'd be in this situation."
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The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted March 19-20 among 1,000 U.S. adults. The poll used a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance. (HuffPost interviewed Romey separately from the survey.)