The job market remained relatively stable in Q2 despite growing concerns about the broader health of the economy. Job growth continues to be strong, and the unemployment rate is holding steady at 3.6% – its lowest rate since January 2020. Yet, as consumers and businesses grapple with inflation, rising interest rates, and continued supply chain and COVID-19 disruptions, many worry that a recession is around the corner. Although the job market has proven largely resilient up until this point, the future outlook appears increasingly uncertain.
In order to get a better understanding of the current job market, we surveyed more than 15,000 job seekers from across the country over the past three months. How concerned are American workers about inflation and a potential recession? How are rising gas prices impacting commuters? Are people starting to regret quitting their jobs during the Great Resignation? And what is driving recent increases in the number of retired people re-entering the workforce?
Read on for a detailed breakdown of these key questions, and more, facing the U.S. job market in Q2 2022.
Widespread recession concerns. 80% of job seekers expect the U.S. to enter a recession in the next year and 49% anticipate that the job market will get worse over the next six months. As a result, 60% of job seekers feel more urgency to find a job now before market conditions change.
Inflation outpaces pay increases. 41% of workers received a pay raise in the first half of 2022. However, 72% of these reported that their raise was less than 8.5%, thus failing to keep pace with the current inflation rate.
Gas prices strain commuters. 86% of workers in our survey commute to work by car at least some of the time. Of these, 59% say that rising gas prices are putting a “high” or “very high” level of strain on them financially. As a result, nearly 70% of commuters are taking measures to counter rising gas prices, such as looking for a job with higher pay or a shorter commute, working from home, or moving closer to work.
Great Resignation brings great regrets (for some). Over one in four people who quit their previous job (26%) regret their decision. Of those who found a new job after quitting, 42% say that their new job has not lived up to their expectations.
“Unretirements” are on the rise. The pandemic forced more than two million premature retirements, but many of those retirees are now returning to work. Although 27% of retired job seekers are re-entering the workforce for financial reasons — and 21% cite inflation concerns, specifically — the majority are unretiring instead for personal reasons. In our survey, 60% say that they are primarily “looking for something to do,” and 53% report that they are happy about going back to work.
The economy and job market have made a remarkable recovery from the deep dive caused by the pandemic in the spring of 2020. After losing nearly 22 million jobs, employment is now less than one million workers shy of pre-pandemic levels. But soaring prices, rising interest rates, and a volatile stock market have led to speculation that a recession is on the horizon.
According to our survey, recession fears are now extremely widespread among job seekers. A whopping 80% expect the U.S. to enter a recession in the next year. Most job seekers have a high level of concern, with two out of three job seekers reporting that they are “worried” or “very worried” about a potential recession. Meanwhile, only 7% of job seekers say that they are not worried at all.
In recent months, the job market has been mostly friendly for job seekers. Job openings hit record levels earlier this spring, and there are currently nearly twice as many job openings as unemployed workers. Yet, according to our survey, nearly half of job seekers (49%) now believe the job market will get worse in the next six months. Another one-third of job seekers think the job market will remain about the same, and only 19% expect the job market to improve.
Job seekers are largely pessimistic about the rest of 2022. As a result, most job seekers (60%) report feeling more urgency to find a job now before job market conditions change.
Pay and Inflation
The job market has experienced significant wage growth since the pandemic started. On an annual basis, average hourly earnings grew by 5.5% in April and 5.2% in May. However, prices have been rising rapidly over the last year and are now over 8.5% higher than a year ago — the highest inflation level in over four decades.
In our survey, we found that pay raises are common so far in 2022, but typically are not large enough to offset inflation. A large share of job seekers (41%) have already received a pay raise this year; however, only 28% of these received a raise that is higher than the roughly 8.5% inflation rate. A previous Joblist report found that, in all of 2021, 53% of employed job seekers had received a pay raise. Given the large share of job seekers who have already received a raise in 2022, we are well on the way to surpassing the 2021 benchmark.
A large majority of employed job seekers in Q2 (78%) think that they can make more money by switching jobs, which could help explain the continued Great Resignation. This exactly matches the percentage in November 2021 when we last asked this survey question. Hospitality and retail workers were the most likely to say that they could make more money by switching jobs (both 87%), whereas educators (71%) were the least likely to expect that switching jobs would come with a pay increase.
Most job seekers anticipate relatively small pay increases from switching jobs, but expectations vary by industry. Overall, about one in four job seekers expect that they could make 1-5% more, and another one-third expect that they could make 6-10% more. That is, close to 60% of job seekers say that they could make less than 10% more from switching jobs. Interestingly, hospitality workers (50%) were the most likely to say that they could receive more than a 10% raise by job switching, while healthcare workers (28%) were the least likely. Warehouse, factory, and construction workers (23%) were the most likely to say that they could make significantly more money — 20% or more — by switching jobs.
Gas Prices and Commuters
Driving to work is by far the most popular means of commuting in the U.S. In fact, in our survey, 86% of currently-employed workers report that they drive to work at least some of the time, while 68% say that they always drive to work. Meanwhile, the cost of these commutes has increased significantly due to gas prices, which have more than doubled in the last 18 months.
High gas prices are proving difficult for workers. In our survey, 59% report that rising gas prices are imposing a “high” or “very high” level of financial strain on them. It’s not an insignificant expense increase for many – while the nationwide average price per gallon now hovers around $5 per gallon, the minimum wage in many states remains as low as $7.25 per hour. At a time when nearly 60% of Americans are currently living paycheck-to-paycheck, expense increases like these can pose serious challenges.
Employers generally are doing little to alleviate the strain of high gas prices. According to our survey, only 8% of commuters reported that their employer had taken any measures to help offset rising gas prices. For the small segment of employers which had taken steps, the most popular strategies were increasing pay (41%), reimbursing fuel or vehicle costs (33%), and allowing people to work from home at least some of the time (15%).
Looking ahead, the majority of commuters (68%) say that rising gas prices are impacting their job search in some way. Gas prices are causing job seekers to look for jobs with higher pay (44%), shorter commutes (27%), and more opportunity to work from home (24%), while 7% say that they are even considering moving closer to work. Interestingly, only 2% report that they are carpooling or taking public transit due to rising gas prices, which likely reflects the inconvenience, or infeasibility, of these cost-cutting options for so many commuters outside urban areas.
Great Resignation Regrets
Nearly 48 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021. Now, some are starting to look back on their resignation and reconsider whether it was the right move. According to our survey, one in four workers (26%) who quit their previous job say that they regret the decision. Hospitality workers (31%) were the most likely to regret quitting, while healthcare workers (14%) were the least likely.
Respondents cite a wide range of reasons why they regret quitting. The most popular reason (40%) is that they quit without a new job lined up and the job market has proved more difficult than expected, which is perhaps a surprising insight at a time when job openings in the U.S. are near record levels. Others report that the source of their regret is that they miss the people at their old company (22%), the new job is not what they hoped for (17%), the old job was better than they realized (16%), or bad culture and management at their new company (9%).
Given that quitting regret is somewhat common, employers are wise to reach back out to former employees when trying to fill roles in a tight hiring market. In our survey, 23% of respondents reported that their previous employer reached out to them about coming back after they quit. Education (33%) and retail workers (30%) were the most likely to say that they had heard from their prior employers about returning, while healthcare workers (14%) and office workers (8%) were the least likely.
When asked if they would consider going back to their old job as a “boomerang employee,” respondents were split. The majority (59%) said “no,” while 17% said “yes” and 24% were “maybe” open to it. Education and healthcare workers (67%) were the most likely to show no interest in returning to their old jobs.
As quit levels remain at historic levels through the first half of 2022, it’s clear that the Great Resignation phenomenon is here to stay. In our survey, among those who quit and found a new job, 42% say that the new job has not lived up to their expectations. When this happens, our study finds that employees will not hesitate to move on quickly. In fact, 16% say they will stay less than three months when a job does not live up to expectations, 34% will stay less than six months, and 48% will stay less than a year.
Interestingly, our survey finds that younger workers are much more likely to leave an underwhelming job quickly than older workers. For example, 47% of people in their twenties and 40% of workers in their thirties say that they will leave a job in less than six months if it doesn’t live up to their expectations. By contrast, less than 25% of workers who are over 40 will leave in less than six months. Although quitting is common across all age groups, older workers are much more likely to endure a longer tenure at a disappointing new job.
Retirees Returning to Work
Roughly 2.4 million additional Americans retired in the first 18 months of the pandemic than expected. Now, “unretirements” have been steadily on the rise and are back above average pre-pandemic levels. In our survey, we asked over 500 retired job seekers about their motivations for re-entering the workforce and how they are feeling about the transition.
The majority of retirees are returning to work for personal rather than financial reasons. In these trying economic times, it might be surprising that only 27% of respondents say that they are returning to work because they “need the money,” while 21% cite inflation and 5% call out stock market performance, specifically. By contrast, a much higher number (60%) say that they are unretiring because they are simply “looking for something to do.”
Most retired job seekers are enthusiastic about the prospect of working again. In fact, 52% described themselves as “happy,” and 42% said they were “excited.” Negative emotions were much less common, with 20% characterizing themselves as “nervous,” 5% as “stressed,” and 4% as “frustrated.” Now over two years into a pandemic that forced millions of premature retirements and kept most at home more than usual, returning to work seems like a welcome change for many retirees.
When retirees were asked about the types of jobs that they are interested in, a clear pattern emerged. In our survey, 79% of retirees are looking for part-time jobs, while only 6% are looking for full-time work and 16% are open to either. In terms of work setting, 41% are looking for in-person work, 9% are looking exclusively for remote job opportunities, and 50% are flexible and open to either. In-person, part-time jobs are the most popular option.
Retirees are split on how long they want to stay in the workforce following their return, but the majority are in it for at least a few years. According to our survey, 51% want to work for at least three years and 14% for one to two years. Only 2% plan to return to work for less than a year, while a large segment (33%) are unsure how long they will work again.
Future Outlook on Employment
The job market continued to be strong in the second quarter of 2022. The economy added an average of 413,000 jobs in April and May, and the unemployment rate sits at just a notch above the pre-pandemic rate of 3.5%. However, inflation hit its highest level in over 40 years, and recession fears are widespread.
The Job Seeker Confidence Index — Joblist’s measure of how job seekers feel about the job market each month — waned over the quarter as recession fears set in. The Job Seeker Confidence Index increased slightly from the end of Q1 to the beginning of Q2 before declining steadily from April to June. The Job Seeker Confidence Index is now at its lowest level in over a year, since early 2021 when vaccines were just starting to roll out.
Job seeker expectations grew steadily more pessimistic over the quarter. In April, less than 11% of job seekers thought that the job market would get worse the following month. This increased to 15% in May and June. At the same time, the share of job seekers who expect the job market to improve the following month dropped from 31% in April to 29% in May and then to 27% in June.
While job seeker expectations worsened, the share of job seekers who think it is “easy” to get a new job in the current job market increased slightly from April to May and then dropped in June. The share of job seekers who think it is “hard” to get a new job in the current market followed a similar pattern, starting at 20% in April and ending with 19% in June. As in previous months, the majority of job seekers think it will take no more than two months to find a new job, increasing from 79% in April and May to 82% in June.
With near record levels of job openings, job seekers currently have a wealth of opportunities but still foresee a more challenging job market in the future. It’s interesting to note that only 15% of job seekers believe the job market will get worse in the next month, but 49% expect that it will get worse over the next six months. This reflects how, although there are many warning signs, the job market is reacting slowly. It very much remains to be seen to what extent job seeker fears are realized in the second half of 2022.
We surveyed 11,088 job seekers about their outlook on the job market and expectations for the future. We surveyed 524 job seekers about recession-related concerns, specifically. We surveyed 1,396 employed job seekers about their pay history and inflation topics. We surveyed 1,017 employed workers who commute to their jobs by car at least some of the time about gas prices. We surveyed 628 job seekers who quit their previous job about why they quit and whether they regret their decision. Finally, we surveyed 505 retirees who are actively looking for jobs about why they're interested in re-entering the workforce now.
All 15,158 survey respondents were Joblist users in the United States. The surveys were conducted over the course of April, May, and June 2022.
This data has not been weighted, and it comes with some limitations. All of the information in this study relies on self-reporting. With self-reporting, respondents may overreport or underreport their answers and feelings to the questions provided.
The Joblist Job Seeker Confidence Index was created from several survey questions — how difficult job seekers perceive the market to be, how long they expect it will take to find a new job, and how optimistic they are about the future of the job market. Survey responses were rescaled and averaged to create a composite index. A Confidence Index of 80 or more would denote a very high degree of confidence, whereas a Confidence Index of 25 or less would denote an extremely low degree of confidence. Job seeker confidence has remained squarely in the middle of these extremes throughout the pandemic.
Fair Use Statement
It’s difficult to predict exactly what the future will hold, but we hope this data helps paint a more vivid representation of the job market in America today. Share these findings with your readers for any noncommercial use by including a link back to this page so they have full access to our methodology and results.
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