The economy is technically in recovery, but for a vast number of Americans, things are worse now than they were three years ago.
A recent poll of Americans who lost their job during the most intense period of the Great Recession shows that only 7 percent have climbed back to their previous financial position.
The other 93 percent may have experienced a minor or a major change in lifestyle; they may think of themselves as being in good, fair, or poor shape; and they may consider their new condition temporary or permanent. What they all have in common is that right now, they are not doing as well as they were before the recession hit.
The study, from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, reflects what many people have come to believe since economists declared the Great Recession over in summer 2009 -- that the recovery is a recovery in name only.
Housing prices are still drifting downward. The income of the median household has fallen 6.7 percent -- to $49,909 from $53,518 -- in the past two years. Nearly half of all Americans say they struggle to afford basic household expenses. And while the unemployment rate unexpectedly declined in November to its lowest point since March 2009, millions are still either out of a job or only working limited hours when they'd like to be employed full-time.
The widespread hardships faced by so many Americans, including members of the middle class who have found themselves pried loose from a position of economic security, may explain why public opinion polls have repeatedly shown this year that most people believe the country is experiencing a full-blown recession or depression.
The Heldrich Center survey gives some idea of the specific challenges faced by people who lost their jobs at the height of the recession, a period the poll defines as August 2008 through August 2009.
Many respondents say they had to sell their belongings to make ends meet, and that they cut back on food spending to the point where it began to affect their day-to-day life. Over half of all respondents said that losing their jobs caused a strain in family relations.
The poll also revealed that a number of respondents had sought professional help for depression or substance abuse after losing their jobs -- findings that correlate with a body of evidence showing that unemployed workers are at greater risk for mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and compulsive behavior.