Two in three Americans know someone who has lost their job in the past year, according to Bankrate’s most recent survey. That’s not entirely shocking, considering the unemployment rate is approaching double digits.

And that’s just the tip of the unemployment iceberg. The true rate is higher if you count the number of people out of work who have given up looking for a job, which the unemployment rate doesn’t take into account.

Twelve percent of those surveyed by Bankrate have lost their jobs in the past year.

Despite these dismal numbers, nearly eight out of 10 employed Americans feel pretty secure about their jobs, with 42 percent feeling very secure, and another 37 percent somewhat secure. However, baby boomers have a heightened sense of fear at the prospect of job loss.

Though these older workers may be the most skittish, their younger cohorts between the ages of 35 and 49 have been sacked the most, with 16 percent reporting that they’ve been on the receiving end of a pink slip in the past 12 months, versus 12 percent of workers between 50 and 64 years old.

Bankrate commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates International to poll Americans about how they feel about their careers and job prospects as the job market continues to flounder. The results reveal that older workers are more shaken by the job market than their Gen X and Gen Y counterparts.

And a surprising discovery: Half of Americans would choose to work, even if they had the means to quit.

In the current economic climate, how secure do you feel in your job?
Age % Total secure % Total insecure
18-34 87 13
35-49 81 18
50-64 65 33
65+ 68 21

Baby boomers hit worst

Finding a job in the best of times can be difficult, depending on your field and geographic location. In a depressed job market, it can take even longer to find a job.

The amount of time it will take to find employment increases with income. Top earners could find themselves displaced for a long time if they suddenly find themselves out of a job.

“The old saying is that it takes roughly one month of job searching for every $10,000 in income,” says Dan Kilgore, principal at Riviera Advisors, a human resources consulting firm.

In general, workers over 50 make more money than their younger counterparts, and they are feeling the most pain from the job crunch.

About a third of workers over 50 feel either somewhat insecure or very insecure about their position.

Not only are they more insecure than their younger counterparts, they’re not particularly confident that they could land similar employment within six months were they to lose their jobs tomorrow.

If you lose your job tomorrow, how confident are you that you would find a similar position within six months?
Age % Total confident % Total not confident
18-34 75 23
35-49 70 28
50-64 50 47
65+ 36 48

Almost half — 47 percent of workers over 50 — say they are either not at all confident or not too confident about finding similar work in half a year. Conversely, about three-quarters of those under 49 say they’re either very confident or somewhat confident about landing on their feet quickly if they lose their jobs.

Younger folks may be a little misguided about how long it could take to land a comparable position, says J.T. O’Donnell, a career strategist and workplace consultant.

“I can’t tell you how wrong that is. To find a $40,000 job it will take an average of four months, and add a month for every $10,000 of income as you climb the ladder — but it’s more like a pyramid, not a ladder. As you climb there are fewer opportunities,” she says.

The over-50 crowd, on the other hand, was not optimistic about their chances on the open market.

“Older people are much more pessimistic and that number is right on. And part of that has to do with boomers. They’re more realistic about how tough things are going to get. This is new for Gen X and Gen Y. They have nothing to compare it to — especially Gen Y. They have known nothing but limitless options,” says Debra S. Magnuson, senior consultant, professional services with PDI Ninth House, a leadership development firm.

Older workers’ cynicism about the job market is not unfounded either — more workers in that age group have experienced some retrenchment in their current position.

Forty-four percent of employed people surveyed in all age groups report experiencing personal negative repercussions in the past 12 months from the economy in their compensation — whether through income, benefits or working hours.

Twenty-seven percent experienced a delay or suspension of bonuses, raises or matches to retirement plans; 22 percent say they have had their work hours or days reduced. Thirteen percent have even taken a pay cut.

How did you find your current job?

Fifty-six percent of employed people over 50 said they had experienced one or more of those, compared to 42 percent of those age 35 to 49 and 36 percent of workers between the ages of 18 and 34.

“There is lots of data showing that boomers have been hit much harder (than other generations in the work force). They make more money, they’re the highest paid people, so they’re getting a disproportionate share,” Magnuson says.

The best way to get a job

Bankrate’s survey also validates a truism that’s often bandied about: It’s not what you know, but who you know.

Thirty-three percent of employed workers said that they found their current position through networking, and another 14 percent volunteered that they had found it through friends or family, which also counts as networking, experts say.

“Most HR people would put those numbers together — when you’re doing real networking it doesn’t matter if it comes in through family or friend, or family friend,” says Kilgore.

A paltry 3 percent netted a job through an online job board like Monster.com or Careebuilder.com. Both newspaper classifieds and company Web sites showed higher success rates at 9 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

How did you find your current job? Age breakdown of people who answered networking
Age %
18-34 27
35-49 39
50-64 33
65+ 41

“I have a Gen Y daughter home from college this summer. And her friend got a job, a really good job at a restaurant based on the fact that she knew somebody who knew somebody who owned this great restaurant. She got a great job and my daughter said, ‘It’s not fair!’ And I said, ‘No, it’s not that it’s not fair. It’s networking — and you should be doing it too,'” says Magnuson.

Being network-savvy seems to increase with age. Bankrate’s survey reveals 27 percent of employed 18- to 34-year-olds found their jobs that way, while 39 percent of 35- to 49-year-olds used networking to find their current jobs. For workers 65 and over, the percentage jumps to 41 percent.

If you could choose just one of the following four ways to improve your current job, which would it be?

Show me the money

When it comes down to it, American workers these days say that more money is the best way to improve working conditions.

Forty-three percent said a pay increase would improve their current job, while 19 percent would rather have better benefits, 16 percent want more job security and 15 percent desire more flexibility in their work schedule or the ability to work from home.

Magnuson speculates that workers would prefer more money due to pervasive economic conditions.

“I think right now people are really happy to have a job. I think that they’ve let go of some of those other needs or pushed them down. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; that’s the bottom level, paycheck. You have to get those basic needs met and then once you get beyond getting those basic needs met, then you can say, ‘OK what kind of work do I want?’ And then you can get into benefits and things like flexibility,” she says.



Americans like their work

Employed Americans cited their paycheck as the top reason they are staying in their job, at 39 percent. But enjoyment of their work came in a close second, at 33 percent. Surprisingly, health insurance was a distant third, at 11 percent.

“Workers are still tremendously involved with how much they like the work, if you compare that 50 or 70 years ago, people of the older generation didn’t even expect to like the work they did. As long as they had money, that was good enough,” says Magnuson.

And 7 percent say their main reason for working is having a good boss.

Kilgore suggests that a more telling statistic might have been the number of ex-employees who list bad boss among their top reasons for decampment.

Which is the most important reason for you to stay in your current job?

“Here, less than one in 10 say that having a good boss is a reason to keep their job. But in other surveys, depending on who’s doing the polling, the first or second reason that workers give for voluntary attrition is a bad boss,” he says.

For executives and professional level workers, Kilgore recommends that prospective hires ask for references on their potential boss when the hiring process gets serious.

“I used to do outplacement coaching for executives. I would say when you get close to an offer, when they’re asking for references, ask for references in return. This statistic says that people don’t do that. They don’t query the boss pre-employment. When it comes to why people voluntarily leave, bosses are always in the top two or three,” he says.

Who wants freedom? Not us

Another survey question corroborates the idea that Americans like to work — even if they don’t have to.

When asked what they would do if they were to win the lottery or come into enough money that they didn’t have to work anymore, most people said that they would prefer to bank the money and continue working. Fifty percent opted to keep their job, compared to 14 percent who would turn in their two weeks’ notice right away.

Seventeen percent said they would take some time off and perhaps go back to work, while 13 percent would start their own business.

If you were to win a lottery jackpot or come into enough money that you didn’t have to work any longer, which of the following would you be most likely to do?

“I think a lot of people would say, ‘Well now, what am I going to do with myself?'” says Todd Bermont, job hunting expert and author of “10 Insider Secrets to a Winning Job Search.”

“A lot of people like the social interaction that employment provides. Just like the weekend provides an escape from the work week, the work week provides an escape from the weekend. At the end of the day, you can only do so much sitting on a beach or playing golf. People like to feel productive,” he says.

Men appeared to be more willing to take a chance on entrepreneurship than women. Nearly twice as many men said they would start their own business: 17 percent versus 9 percent of women.

“I think it’s hard to come up with generalizations on that, but sometimes men can tend to be a little bit more risk-takers, and women can be more conservative,” says Bermont.

Women were also more likely than men to save their windfall and keep working, at 58 percent versus 43 percent of men.

Results are based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults, age 18 and over, including 509 who are currently employed. The interviews were conducted from May 14-17, 2009, under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Interviews were conducted on both landline and cell phones using random digit dial (RDD) sample. Sample demographics were weighted to match population parameters derived from the Census Bureaus’ 2007 Annual Social and Economic Supplement data. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on the total sample, and plus or minus 5 percentage points for results based on employed adults. Results based on smaller subgroups are subject to larger margins of sampling error. In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting surveys can also introduce error or bias to poll results.

For full results and methodology, download this PDF.

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