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A traumatized American workforce is overwhelmingly terrified of getting laid off

July 7, 2022, 4:28 PM UTC
Stressed out woman working at laptop on table at home
Almost 80% of U.S. workers are afraid they will get laid off if a recession hits.
The Good Brigade/Getty Images

Almost 80% of U.S. workers are scared about their job security if a recession hits, even as the job market continues to be one of the strongest in recent memory.

That’s according to a recent survey from staffing firm Insight Global, and in spite of an unemployment rate of 3.6% that’s nearly the lowest it’s been since the 1970s. For the past year, workers have enjoyed increased demand for their skills and labor, and wages have been growing steadily.

But anxiety has rippled below the surface that entire time. The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic are still in view, when the unemployment rate reached a high of 14.8%, and families struggled to pay bills and even keep their homes. As the stock market continues its downward spiral, inflation eats into personal savings and outpaces wage gains, and political turmoil roils on, consumer sentiment is the lowest on record. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates and will likely continue to do so.

The U.S. is not technically in a recession, but more and more economists are predicting one, and business leaders are preparing for one, adding to Americans’s uneasiness about their jobs and finances. Insight Global calls it the Great Apprehension: Despite a strong labor market, workers seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Insight Global’s survey polled 1,000 U.S. workers in June 2022. In addition to widespread job anxiety, it found that 56% of Americans are not financially prepared or “don’t know how to prepare” for a recession if one occurs.

The results are reflected in other measures of economic outlook. The University of Michigan’s most recent Survey of Consumers finds 79% believe business conditions will deteriorate in the next year, and 47% say inflation is lowering their living standards—one point behind the all-time high reached during the Great Recession. 

Millennials, battle-scarred from the last recession, are especially anxious, reports Insight Global. Its survey finds 60% of the generation “say they still feel anxious about job security or say the fear of being laid off is often in the back of their minds,” the highest percentage of any generation.

The fears aren’t completely unwarranted, Insight Global says: 87% of managers surveyed say they would “likely” need to lay off employees if a recession hits.

And many companies, particularly in the tech and crypto sectors, are already laying off some employees or freezing hiring and rescinding offers.

If you’re worried about a possible recession and its effects on your finances, financial advisers recommend you focus on what you can control and tighten your spending now.

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