New Poll Explores Plight of the Unemployed

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Express Employment Professionals today released results from a new Harris Poll of unemployed Americans, which, for the third year in a row, shows that a significant number of Americans have completely given up looking for work.

It’s frightening to see this many people who could work say they have given up. The country can’t afford to let this many people fall behind.

Express Employment Professionals today released results from a new Harris Poll of unemployed Americans, which, for the third year in a row, shows that a significant number of Americans have completely given up looking for work. Many, 83 percent, also believe the U.S. economic system benefits the rich.

This year’s survey indicates that unemployment is becoming a chronic condition. More than half, 51 percent, reported they haven’t been on a job interview since 2014, and 40 percent of the unemployed reported being out of work for more than 24 months. In addition, 40 percent said that they expected their search to be difficult, but “it’s been more difficult than I thought.”

The survey of 1,513 jobless Americans age 18 and older between May 5 and May 16, 2016 was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Express and offers a detailed, in-depth look at the background and attitudes of the unemployed.

In an encouraging sign for the economy, 22 percent said the reason they are unemployed is because they quit their jobs, up from 15 percent in 2014. In contrast, 32 percent reported they were laid off or downsized, down from 36 percent in 2014.

Almost half, 48 percent, blame themselves for being unemployed, up from 36 percent who blamed themselves in 2014. The percentage who blame the economy has dropped to 34 percent from 45 percent in 2014.

“This is a tale of two economies,” said Bob Funk, CEO of Express, and a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. “Those with skills and jobs are seeing a slow but steady recovery from the days of the Great Recession. But far too many are still being left behind, a fact often masked by a declining unemployment rate and a low labor force participation rate.

“It’s frightening to see this many people who could work say they have given up. The country can’t afford to let this many people fall behind. We clearly also need to equip people with the skills required for the jobs that are available.”


According to the survey, 55 percent of the unemployed are men; 45 percent are women.

The largest group of the unemployed is the youngest age group:

  • 33 percent are ages 18-29
  • 20 percent are ages 30-39
  • 17 percent are ages 40-49
  • 18 percent are ages 50-59
  • 12 percent are 60 or older

The majority lack a college degree:

  • 6 percent did not complete high school
  • 38 percent received only a high school diploma
  • 8 percent completed job-specific training after high school
  • 22 percent attended college but did not receive a degree
  • 8 percent hold an associate degree
  • 13 percent hold a bachelor’s degree
  • 4 percent have a graduate degree

Of those with at least a college degree, 52 percent agreed with the statement, “I wish I focused on a vocational career (e.g., automotive technology, electrician, plumber, HVAC specialist, dental assisting, medical assisting, etc.) rather than getting my college degree.” Twenty-four percent agreed “completely” or “a lot” with the statement.


Forty-three percent agree with the statement, “I’ve completely given up on looking for a job,” compared to 40 percent in 2015 and 47 percent in 2014.

  • 8 percent agree completely
  • 5 percent agree a lot
  • 13 percent agree somewhat
  • 16 percent agree a little
  • 57 percent do not agree at all

Of those who have been unemployed for more than two years, 59 percent agree that they have “given up.”


Even though minimum wage jobs may be available, the majority of the unemployed do not apply for them. Sixty-six percent agree with the statement “I don’t apply for jobs that offer minimum wage because it’s just not enough to pay the bills.”

  • 20 percent say they agree “completely”
  • 12 percent agree “a lot”
  • 17 percent agree “somewhat”
  • 17 percent agree “a little”
  • 34 percent do not agree at all

Respondents were also asked to weigh in on the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and its impact on the number of available jobs.

  • 20 percent said it would create more jobs
  • 27 percent said it would have no impact
  • 52 percent said it would decrease the number of jobs


The unemployed reported they are putting in an average of just over a full day (11.7 hours) looking for work each week. That is down from a high of 13.8 hours in 2014 and 12.9 hours in 2015.

Sixty-three percent have applied for positions that are below their job levels at their previous employers, but 37 percent have not.

The majority have had no job interviews since 2014. The survey asked, “When was the last time you went on an interview?”

  • 51 percent said 2014 or before
  • 6 percent said Jan, Feb, March 2015
  • 5 percent said April, May, June 2015
  • 9 percent said July, August, Sep 2015
  • 8 percent said Oct, Nov, Dec 2015
  • 18 percent said Jan, Feb, March 2016
  • 3 percent said April, May 2016

Among the job search activities respondents could choose from, the most common job search activities are online:

  • 49 percent reported visiting and researching online job boards
  • 41 percent visit prospective companies’ websites
  • 40 percent enter search terms directly into an internet search engine
  • 38 percent post resumes on major online job boards
  • 30 percent visit or research websites that provide resume tips

The unemployed spend most of their time filling out applications online. Respondents were asked to report what percentage of their job search time they spent on various activities:

  • 25.3 percent researched job opportunities
  • 23.7 percent filled out applications online
  • 11.6 percent sent resumes
  • 10.5 percent networked online
  • 8.5 percent filled out applications in person
  • 7.2 percent followed up on their resumes and applications
  • 5.6 percent networked by phone
  • 4.9 percent were interviewing
  • 2.7 percent attended professional networking events

More than half are unwilling to move to another state to find work. Respondents were asked, “How willing are you to consider relocating to another state to find a job?”

  • 4 percent already did
  • 35 percent say they are willing
  • 61 percent say “not at all willing”

In 2015, 61 percent said they were unwilling and in 2014, 60 percent were unwilling.


The unemployed are split on which presidential candidate “will have the most impact in creating jobs.”

  • 25 percent say Hillary Clinton
  • 24 percent say Bernie Sanders
  • 24 percent say Donald Trump
  • 21 percent say none of the above

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders are Donald Trump are virtually tied as the preferred presidential candidate among unemployed Americans. Respondents were asked, “Regardless of the outcome of the primaries, if the presidential election was held today, who would you vote for?”

  • 27 percent chose Hillary Clinton
  • 26 percent chose Bernie Sanders
  • 23 percent chose Donald Trump
  • 19 percent chose none of the above

This study was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Express Employment Professionals and included 1,513 U.S. adults aged 18 or older who are unemployed but capable of working (whether or not they receive unemployment compensation benefits). Excluded are those who are currently retired, choose to stay at home or are unable to work due to long-term disability. The survey was conducted between May 5 and May 17, 2016.

Results were weighted as needed for age by gender, education, race/ethnicity, region and household income. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online. Totals may not equal the sum of their individual components due to rounding. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available.

Survey Methodology

  • Memo from Harris Poll – PDF
  • Study by Harris Poll – PDF

If you would like to arrange for an interview with Bob Funk to discuss this topic, please contact Sherry Kast at (405) 717-5966.

About Robert A. Funk
Robert A. “Bob” Funk is chairman and chief executive officer of Express Employment Professionals. Headquartered in Oklahoma City, the international staffing company has more than 760 franchises in the U.S., Canada and South Africa. Under his leadership, Express has put more than 6 million people to work worldwide. Funk served as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and was also the Chairman of the Conference of Chairmen of the Federal Reserve.

About Express Employment Professionals
Express Employment Professionals puts people to work. It generated $3.02 billion in sales and employed a record 500,002 people in 2015. Its long-term goal is to put a million people to work annually.

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Sherry Kast
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