Image: Man waits to talk ot employers at job fair
Spencer Platt  /  Getty Images
Ron Ziffer waits to speak with potential employers at the New York Sales Career Fair in June. Those who are working are growing more worried about their future, and those without work are glum about their prospects for finding a job, according to a pair of new surveys.
By Allison Linn Senior writer
updated 7/7/2011 11:41:06 AM ET 2011-07-07T15:41:06

Two years after the Great Recession officially ended, American workers — and those looking for work — are growing increasingly nervous.

Those who are working are growing more worried about their future, and those without work are glum about their prospects for finding a job, according to a pair of new surveys.

The pessimism comes as investors, lawmakers and ordinary consumers brace for another potentially weak jobs report Friday morning. In May a scant 54,000 jobs were added to the nation's payrolls, the worst result in nearly a year. Analysts are expecting the government to report a similar result for June, with perhaps 80,000 jobs added.

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Normally job growth accelerates as the economy bounces back from recession, but so far that has not happened in the current recovery, now two years old.

“We are in a really negative cycle that I thought we were in the process of getting out of,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist with Naroff Economic Advisors.

There were some positive signs Thursday. The government reported that initial claims for unemployment fell by 14,000, to a seasonally adjusted 418,000, and payrolls processor ADP esimated that private employment increased by 157,000 in June.

Still, that may not be enough to fight the fears Americans are fearing about their job security.

A quarterly survey released Wednesday by jobs site found that 22 percent of workers are worried they will be laid off in the next six months, up from 17 percent in the first quarter. In addition, 34 percent are worried their co-workers will be laid off, up from 30 percent in the previous quarter.

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Only one-quarter of unemployed people think they will find a job in the next six months, the lowest level since the second quarter of 2009, when the recession officially ended, according to the survey.

Those who are employed aren’t so thrilled with the idea of a job hunt, either. The survey found that nearly one-third of working people think it’s unlikely they would find a job that matched their experience and compensation in six months if they were to lose the one they have.

The survey was conducted in June by polling firm Harris Interactive.

Employee confidence dipped in June to the lowest level in nearly two years, according to a separate survey from staffing firm SFN Group due out Friday. The survey measures people’s confidence in their own employment as well as optimism about the economy in general.

The SFN survey, also conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 57 percent of workers are confident in the future of their employer, down from 63 percent the previous month. About 40 percent of workers said they thought they would be able to find a job if they lost theirs, a six percentage point drop from June.

“People are cautious,” said Bill Grubbs, chief operating officer with SFN Group.

‘Mediocre’ job market
The job market might not be quite as bad as people think, but the growing concerns about employment aren’t without merit.

Even if June’s unemployment report shows a big jump in new jobs, the reality is that it will still take a long time to dig out of the hole created by the Great Recession. Nearly 14 million Americans were unemployed in May, and the unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent, compared with well under 5 percent before the downturn hit in late 2007.

“The job market is mediocre,” Naroff said.

On the positive side, U.S. employers announced plans to cut 245,806 jobs in the first six months of this year, the lowest six-month total in more than a decade, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

“Businesses aren’t laying off people, but because workers aren’t seeing more workers be hired and they don’t have job flexibility, they’re thinking that the labor market is bad,” Naroff said.  “That affects their confidence (and) that affects their spending.”

The weak job market is making employees a lot less picky. Many jobseekers are willing to take a job that pays less, and to work more hours or take on more duties just to stay employed, said Grubbs of SFN.

Grubbs said the staffing firm also is seeing baby boomers who would have retired hold onto their jobs instead, leaving fewer openings for jobseekers.

Employers, in turn, have the luxury of being very choosy. Torrie Jackson, 34, completed her master’s degree in human resources in 2010, in the hopes that it would help her land a job working with employees on benefits and compensation.

But Jackson, who lives in Warren, Mich., is finding that she is competing with so many people for the same job that it’s hard to stand out.

“There (are) a lot of jobs out there, but what I find is I apply to them but then I don’t hear from them, or I have the credentials but I don’t have the experience,” she said.

As a result, Jackson has stuck with her job working for the state unemployment department.

“To be honest, I guess what I have right now would probably be the safest job right now because unemployment is high,” she said.

Despite the difficult market, Grubbs said there are signs of hope. Employers are adding jobs, albeit at a slow pace. In addition, the unemployment rate for people with a college degree remains relatively low, at 4.5 percent.

“You would have expected the jobs market to come back stronger by now,” Grubbs said. “The fact that it hasn’t – it just looks like it’s going to be a slow, drawn-out recovery.”

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