Turning Points: Americans’ Growing Confidence in the Job Market, Perspectives on the Presidential Election, and Assessments of Foreign and Immigrant Workers - Media Release

Friday, September 2, 2016

National survey of Americans finds:

  • Americans are regaining confidence in the U.S. economy, their economic futures, and their ability to regain control of their work lives. Americans have a more positive assessment of the economy and job opportunities than they did just two years ago in Heldrich Center surveys.
  • The vast majority of Americans believe that the stakes are high in the 2016 presidential election, believing that it will make a great deal of difference in domestic and foreign policy. At this stage of the campaign, Americans have a strong preference for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over Republican nominee Donald Trump across a wide range of economic and workforce issues.
  • American workers are viewed as more highly paid but more stressed than are foreign workers, and more highly skilled, but lazier. Foreign workers are believed to be happier. The same holds true when American-born workers are compared to immigrants, but immigrant workers are seen as slightly more productive.
  • U.S. residents badly misperceive basic traits of the labor market, vastly overestimating the number of union workers, unemployment levels, and the number of foreign-born residents in the United States. 

Americans’ confidence in the job market and economy has recovered slowly after the searing experiences of the Great Recession and its aftermath. For several years, Heldrich Center Work Trends surveys have reported Americans’ dismal views about the economy and job opportunities. After several years of consistent job growth and unemployment rates finally back under 5%, Americans’ views have changed in a positive direction.

The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development’s August 2016 Work Trends report, Turning Points: Americans’ Growing Confidence in the Job Market, Perspectives on the Presidential Election, and Assessments of Foreign and Immigrant Workers, explores the opinions and experiences of Americans more than seven years after the official end of the recession in June 2009. The study reports on the results from a national sample of over 800 respondents in a general population survey conducted between August 3 and 11, 2016, and compares the findings to previous Heldrich Center surveys conducted during and after the recession.

Overall, the August survey finds that Americans are significantly less concerned about the unemployment rate, the job market for those looking for work, and job security for those currently working than they were in 2009 and notably less concerned than they were on these indicators than they were only a few years ago.

  • In 2009, more than two in three Americans surveyed said they were very concerned about the unemployment rate and the job market for those seeking work, compared to less than one in four in the August 2016 survey. Those very concerned about job security for those in the workforce declined from nearly 50% in 2009 to only 19% in 2016. 
  • In 2010, nearly 8 in 10 Americans said it was a “bad time to find a quality job.” Just two years ago, in August 2014, half the public held that view. Today, only one in three believe that to be so.
  • American workers are also more confident about finding another good job if they lose or want to leave their current job. In August 2014, 20% were extremely or very confident about getting another good job. In August 2016, 31% are either extremely or very confident about landing another good job should they need to. 

Professor Carl Van Horn, co-director of the Work Trends project, commented, “Americans have not returned to the unbridled optimism of the late 1990s, but for the first time in nearly a decade, they are decidedly more upbeat about the economy and their job prospects.”

The 2016 Presidential Election

The economy and jobs have dominated much of the 2016 presidential campaigns. Republican nominee Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders offered highly critical descriptions of the American economy. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, while praising President Obama’s economic record, also promotes policies that will create jobs and reduce economic inequalities. Respondents in the Heldrich Center’s 2016 survey clearly believe that the presidential election is important to the nation’s economic future.

  • More than three-fifths of the public say the election outcome will make “a great deal of difference” in domestic and foreign policy, with another fifth saying it matters “pretty much.” 
  • 80% feel that it matters either a great deal or pretty much who wins in terms of the direction public policy takes in the United States. Clinton supporters are more likely to say it matters a great deal than Trump supporters by a margin of 78% to 62%.
  • Hillary Clinton has a significant advantage over Donald Trump across 7 of 10 economic and workforce issues, including which candidate will lower unemployment, create jobs, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and make the income tax fairer. The candidates are roughly tied on the other three, even on Trump’s signature issue of preventing jobs from going overseas.

Professor Cliff Zukin, co-director of the Work Trends project, commented, “Americans believe that the stakes are high in this year’s presidential election. Not only do over 60% say that the outcome matters a great deal in terms of public policy, more than half say they care a great deal who is elected, and just under half believe who is elected will make a major difference in their own lives. Clearly most view this as a very consequential election.”

U.S. and Foreign Workers

The August 2016 Work Trends survey asked respondents to compare American workers with those in other countries. Among the more important findings:

  • American workers by a margin of 51% believe that they are better paid, yet lazier than their foreign counterparts.
  • American workers are also perceived to be more highly stressed than workers in other countries and more highly skilled and slightly more ambitious.
  • However, Americans believe that, as a whole, they are less happy at work than workers in other countries.

The survey also explored American workers’ views of native-born versus foreign-born workers who currently live and work in the United States. Overall, immigrant workers are regarded as more ambitious and productive, yet less well paid and less secure in their jobs than native-born workers. Native-born workers are also thought to be better paid but lazier than foreign-born workers.
In other findings of note:

  • Americans have little factual knowledge about the contours of the American labor market. They vastly overestimate the unemployment rate, the size of union membership, and the number of foreign workers. For example, over half of the American public believe that the unemployment rate is well above the current 4.9%, with almost a third saying that it is over 9%. Less than a quarter of survey respondents estimated that union membership is approximately 11% when given the options to choose various ranges from 10% to 40%. Over half of the public believe there are more immigrants in the nation than is actually the case. 
  • While there has been widespread reporting in the media about the polarization of American politics and the deep divides between supporters of presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the survey results clearly indicate that the acrimony over the campaigns has not, in large measure, spilled into the American workplace. Only 11% say that they frequently discussed the presidential campaigns with co-workers. Of those who say they have engaged in conversations about the presidential campaigns, only 6% say these discussions caused tensions or conflicts on the job. 
  • The survey also finds that by one measure, most of the public appreciates the contributions of immigrants to life in the United States. By a margin of 59% to 41%, more agree with the statement, “Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” than believe “Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing, and health care.” The question on immigrants reveals one of the main fault lines of the 2016 presidential election: 82% of Clinton voters say that immigrants strengthen the United States, while 77% of Trump supporters say they are a burden on the nation.
News Type: 
Press Release
U.S. Labor Market & Industry
Work Trends Surveys
job market
presidential election
U.S. Economy
foreign workers
immigrant workers
Work Trends