Unemployment concerns rise - CNN poll

Last year it was rising gas prices and inflation that had Americans anxious. Now it's unemployment.

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By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Deputy Political Director

WASHINGTON(CNN) -- A new national poll indicates that worries about unemployment have tripled over the past year.

In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday morning, 36% of people questioned said unemployment is the most important economic issue facing the country today, almost three times higher than the 13% who felt the same way last April. Unemployment is the top economic concern in the new poll. Inflation is second at 20%, followed by the mortgage crisis at 16%, the stock market at 14% and taxes at 11%.

Last April, 47% of poll respondents said rising prices and the rate of inflation were the most important economic issues facing the country, putting that at the top of the country's economic concerns.

"Last spring, Americans were spooked by rising gas prices," said Keating Holland, the CNN polling director. "Now they're spooked by high unemployment figures and the growing concern that good jobs aren't available."

The nation's unemployment rate stood at 8.1% in February, up 0.5 percentage points from January. There are worries that the jobless rate could break into double digits by year's end. The unemployment level is the highest in more than 25 years. About 4.4 million jobs have been lost since the recession began in December 2007.

The poll also indicates that the economy remains the most important issue facing the country today: 63% said the economy is their top concern, with health care a distant second at 9%. The federal budget deficit follows at 8%, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at 6%, education and terrorism tied at 5%, and energy policy at 2%.

The past year has seen a striking loss of confidence among Americans workers. A majority have lost confidence that they could find a good job at their current rate of pay if they were to look for one. The number of people worried that there will be layoffs at their workplace has also grown significantly.

"When wage-earners lose confidence, it has ripple effects throughout the economy," Holland said. "Consumption patterns are based in part on workers' prospects of keeping their jobs or finding new ones. Right now, American workers remain confident that they will keep their own jobs, but many see layoffs in the future at their workplace and they aren't confident that other good jobs are out there."

Last March, a majority of workers said they were confident that there would be no layoffs at their place of employment, but only 38% feel that way now. The number of people confident that they won't be laid off over the next six months now stands at 57%, down 12 points from last March.

Americans are split on whether they could find another job if they are laid off, with 49% confident they could land another good job and 51% not confident -- a 10 point increase from a year ago.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday with 1,019 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.  To top of page

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