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1/3 Of America Is Crazy: They Think Their Jobs Are Safe

Thinking about this optimistic third of Americans, it's hard not to reach one basic conclusion: They're nuts.

According to a recently released AP-GfK poll, 32% of Americans are crazy.

Oh, sorry. The poll actually revealed that 47% of those asked worry "a lot" or "some" about the possibility of losing their jobs. True, that's nearly twice as many as the same poll detected in February 2008, when only 28% of Americans polled raised their hands and acknowledged anxiety.

More noteworthy, though, and much more difficult to explain, is this conundrum: If the AP-GfK poll is to be trusted, almost one-third of all Americans say that they are worried about losing their jobs "not much" or "not at all."

Let's think about what this means. The current official U.S. unemployment rate of 7.6% (up from 7.2% just one month earlier) doesn't faze this optimistic bunch; nor, we might assume, would the news that the real unemployment rate is probably closer to 14%, if you include all those people who are involuntarily underemployed because part-time jobs are the only ones they can find. (The most realistic unemployment figure is undoubtedly higher still, if you include all the previously "self-employed" people whose income has dried up along with the economy.)

Yet even sticking to that 7.6% figure, there are still 4.1 million more people out of work now than 12 months ago. Evidently, that doesn't faze this self-confident group either. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents reported that a friend had lost a job thanks to the cratering economy in the past six months. Twenty-five percent had a family member who had lost a job during this period. It seems that doesn't get to them either… but you get the idea.

An astonishing 32% of those surveyed by AP-GfK are somehow confident that they, at least, are secure in their jobs. (The missing 21% checked off "didn't apply" to the question, including presumably the 10% of those polled who reported already getting the ax during the past six months.) A recent New York Times /CBS News Poll came up with similar findings. In that poll, a marginally larger and so marginally more astonishing 35% of Americans reported themselves not in the least concerned that someone in their household might be out of work in the next 12 months.

Thinking about this optimistic third of Americans, it's hard not to reach one basic conclusion: They're nuts.

Surveying the Layoff Landscape

Polls like these attract respectful attention from the mainstream media. An Associated Press article about the AP-GfK poll, with the typical headline, "Fears over Economy Growing, Poll Says," found its way into newspapers across the country, including the Seattle Times , Sacramento Bee , Washington Times , and Star Tribune of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The article breezed through a batch of fairly predictable findings: lots of people are worried about paying their bills; they're afraid that the value of their stocks and retirement investments will drop; and more than half of poll respondents aren't confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement.

Yet, for anyone who actually considered the poll, or read between the lines of that widely-reprinted AP article, one question seems too pressing to ignore: How, in the present economic environment, could 32% of Americans fail to grasp that job security no longer exists -- not in the U.S., nor elsewhere in the global economy. Today's most salient question isn't, will you lose your job (if you still have one), but when?

No question, it's getting harder and harder to count on a paycheck. That's certainly true for all the people who have spent their work lives in industries now visibly disintegrating around them (which would include automobile manufacturing, journalism, book publishing, and the rest of the media, the retail sector, financial services, construction, and so on). It's hardly less true for countless people living in one of the 40 or so states with significant budget gaps that need to be plugged, states where cutbacks along the lines of California's recent budget cataclysm are just waiting to happen.

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