Study: 60% of unemployed Americans are not looking for work, due to little confidence in job market

Updated March 1, 2021

According to the latest unemployment report from the U.S. Department of Labor, the national unemployment rate in the U.S. was 6.7% as of December 2020, with over 5 million Americans continuing to file unemployment claims. For the week ending January 16, an additional 900,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims.

These alarming numbers are related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent global recession. Although the U.S. has recovered slightly from the unemployment rate’s peak of 14.7% in April 2020, when more Americans lost their jobs than at any point since the Great Depression, the unemployment rate is still nearly double what it was in February 2020, right before the pandemic struck.

ResumeBuilder.com partnered with Pollfish, an online survey platform, to find out how American workers are coping with this employment crisis. In a survey of 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 54 and older, we found that employed and unemployed individuals alike have little confidence in the current job market, and that the uncertainty has kept many unhappy employees in their current jobs.

Key Findings

  • Citing a lack of confidence in the job market, 57% of unemployed Americans are not applying for new jobs
  • 20% of unemployed Americans aren’t looking for work because they are earning more on unemployment than they would at a full-time job
  • Despite being unhappy, 44% of employed individuals are staying at their current job for the economic security
  • 50% of individuals who are unhappy at their current job have updated their resumes and applied for new jobs

1 in 4 of Americans are experiencing unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic

Nearly one-quarter of our survey respondents, 24%, said they are currently unemployed. Seventy percent of respondents said they are currently employed, and 6% of respondents did not answer.

When looked at by education level, respondents whose highest level of education is high school are most likely to be experiencing unemployment. Forty-four percent of individuals in this group said they are currently unemployed, compared to 22% of those with a university-level education, and only 5% of those who have a postgraduate education.

Younger individuals are most likely to be experiencing unemployment, with 38% of 18-24 year-olds saying they are currently unemployed. By comparison, 17% of 35-44 year-olds, 18% of 45-54 year-olds, and 20% of 25-34 year-olds are currently out of work.

People of color are more likely to be experiencing unemployment than White individuals. Thirty percent of Hispanic/Latinx respondents, 28% of Black respondents, and 27% of Asian respondents said they are currently unemployed, compared to 23% of White respondents.

Regionally, the rate of unemployment is highest in the South, with 26% of respondents in this region saying they are unemployed, compared to 18% of respondents in the Northeast.

A third of unemployed job-seekers say they have little to no confidence they will find a job soon

Among survey respondents who said they are currently unemployed, the majority, 57%, said they have not tried looking for employment during the pandemic by updating their resume and applying for other jobs. Thirty-eight percent of unemployed individuals said they have refreshed their resumes and applied for jobs, and 5% of respondents did not answer.

Older unemployed Americans are less likely to be job-hunting, according to our survey. Sixty-nine percent of unemployed individuals ages 45-54, and 77% of unemployed individuals ages 54 and older said they have not updated their resumes and applied for new jobs.

By comparison, only 40% of unemployed individuals ages 18-24 said they have not sought new employment, while 55% of unemployed individuals in this age group said they updated their resume and applied for jobs.

Although some lawmakers argued that more generous unemployment benefits that were put in place to help offset the damage of the pandemic and subsequent recession acted as a disincentive for people to return to work, our study found that is not the case. Only 20% of respondents said they haven’t sought employment because they are earning more through unemployment benefits than they would make at a full-time job. Meanwhile, nearly three-fourths of respondents, 74%, said their unemployment benefits had no impact on their decision not to look for a full-time job.

Individuals in the Northeast and West were most likely to say they haven’t looked for work because they are collecting more in unemployment benefits than they would earn at a full-time job. Thirty-three percent of respondents from the Northeast, and 32% of respondents from the West cited this as the reason they haven’t job-hunted, compared to 12% of respondents from the South, and 10% of respondents from the Midwest.

A lack of confidence in the job market appears to be a bigger disincentive to job-hunting than generous unemployment benefits. When asked to rate their confidence in finding a job on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the least confident, and 10 being the most confident, 34% of respondents said they have little to no confidence that they will find employment soon.

About one-fourth, 24%, of respondents rated their confidence level at a 5, meaning they have some confidence they will land a job soon. Only 11% of respondents rated their confidence level at a 10, meaning they have a lot of optimism when it comes to finding a new job.

Uncertain job market keeping 44% of employees in current jobs, despite dissatisfaction

This uncertainty is also affecting individuals who are currently employed. When asked if they were happy at their current job, 76% of individuals who are employed said they are satisfied with their current employment situation. However, 14% of respondents said they are unhappy at their current job, and 10% declined to respond.

Despite their dissatisfaction with their jobs, forty-four percent of respondents said they have not quit their current job because they value the job security they have, and fear not being able to find a new job given the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young individuals are more likely than their older counterparts to remain in unsatisfying jobs because of recession-related fears. Fifty-nine percent of respondents ages 25-34, and 45% of respondents ages 18-24 said they are remaining in their current jobs because they don’t want to give up security while the job market is so uncertain. By comparison, 70% of respondents ages 54 and older said they are staying in their current jobs for other reasons unrelated to their unhappiness with their current position.

Individuals with a high school education are nearly twice as likely as individuals with a university-level education to be sticking with their current job out of fear of not being able to find new employment, by a margin of 77% to 40%.

When looked at by region, unhappy employees in the West are most likely to be staying in their current jobs because of pandemic-related fears, with 64% of respondents saying this is the reason they haven’t quit their jobs. Comparatively, only 31% of respondents in the Midwest, and 45% of respondents in the Northeast cited this reason for remaining at their current job despite their unhappiness.

While not quitting current jobs, 50% of unhappy employees are applying for new jobs

However, individuals who are unhappy in their current jobs have not given up hope entirely. Half of the respondents in this group, 50%, said that although they haven’t quit their jobs yet, they have updated their resumes and applied for new jobs.

The younger a respondent is, the more likely they are to be job-hunting. Sixty-seven percent of 18-24 year-olds, 55% of 25-34 year-olds, and 50% of 35-44 year-olds said they have been applying for jobs during the recession, compared to 40% of respondents 54 and older, and 37% of respondents ages 45-54.

When looked at by education level, individuals with vocational or technical training are the most likely to be job-hunting. Sixty-four percent of respondents in this group said they have applied for jobs, compared to 55% of people with a postgraduate education, and 43% of people with a university-level education.

Individuals who are job-hunting have varying degrees of confidence that they will land a new job during this uncertain time, although the majority, 70%, are at least somewhat confident about their prospects.

When asked to rate their confidence on a scale of 1-10, with 1 having no confidence, and 10 being the most confident, 17% of respondents rated their confidence level at the midway point, 5, while 17% said their confidence level was a 7, and 16% said their confidence level was a 10.

By comparison, 10% of respondents rated their confidence level as a 1, meaning they have no confidence that they will be able to find new employment.

Methodology

The data from this report comes from an online survey administered by online survey platform Pollfish. The survey was created and paid for by ResumeBuilder.com. In total, 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 54 and older, were surveyed. Respondents were grouped into two categories: those who are currently employed, and those who are not. Respondents were then asked specific subsets of questions based on their current employment situation. This survey was conducted from January 26-27, 2021.

Full Survey Results

Are you currently employed?

  • Yes (70%)
  • No (24%)
  • I’d rather not say (6%)

Have you tried looking for employment during the coronavirus pandemic by updating your resume and applying to other jobs?

  • Yes (38%)
  • No (57%)
  • I’d rather not say (5%)

Is the reason you haven’t looked for employment related to the coronavirus unemployment benefits and that you are making more collecting unemployment than you would be making from a full-time job?

  • Yes (20%)
  • No (74%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (6%)

Are you happy at your job?

  • Yes (76%)
  • No (14%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (10%)

Have you updated your resume and applied for other jobs during the pandemic?

  • Yes (50%)
  • No (46%)
  • I’d rather not say (4%)

Despite not being happy at your current job, is the reason you haven’t quit yet because you value the job security during a pandemic recession and worry you wouldn’t find a job if you left?

  • Yes, I would have quit already if we weren’t in a pandemic recession (44%)
  • No, it’s something else (48%)
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say (8%)