The country is once again divided into haves and have-nots. This time, however, the haves are not those with wealth but those with jobs, and have-nots are those who don't have jobs or fear they'll soon lose the jobs they have.
And the level of frustration among the have-nots is likely to have a major influence on the midterm elections in November.
This was a key finding from the latest IBD/TIPP Poll, which showed that Independents — the new kingmakers who decide elections — are far more job-sensitive than Democrats or Republicans and are likely to take out their frustration on incumbents.
We define job-sensitive as households in which at least one member is looking for work or is concerned that a member might be laid off, or both.
The poll of 910 adults taken April 30 to May 6 found that 45% of households in our poll meet the definition of job-sensitive; 54% do not.
45 Million Job Seekers
Our numbers jibe with those put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If we project the poll results to the 112 million households in the U.S., the total number of job seekers is 45 million.
According to BLS, the number of "unemployed" is 15.2 million. If we add the 9.2 million who've been able to find only part-time work and the 2.5 million whom BLS considers marginally attached to the labor force, as well as assume that a large segment of the 18 million who are working part-time for noneconomic reasons indeed want full-time work, we get close to 45 million.
Asked in our poll how many members of respondent households were unemployed and looking for employment, more than 1 in 4 (28%) indicated that at least one member of the household was currently jobless and looking for work. Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) said one member was seeking employment, 7% said two members were seeking employment and 2% said three or more.
To gauge concerns about future layoffs, we also asked respondents how concerned they were that a member of the household might be laid off in the next 12 months.
More than 1 in 3 (34%) said they were concerned, with 16% admitting to being "very concerned" and the other 18% "somewhat concerned."
Job-sensitive households are frustrated with the economic situation, the government and the administration, as evidenced by how they show up in various indexes that IBD/TIPP compiles each month. For example:
• The IBD/TIPP Direction of Country Index ranges from 0 to 100 and measures optimism/pessimism about where America is headed. A reading above 50 indicates optimism and below 50, pessimism.
For all Americans, the direction-of-country metric is a pessimistic 39.7. But for job-sensitive households, it's a much more pessimistic 32.2 vs. 46.1 for households that are not job-sensitive.
• The IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index for job-sensitive respondents is 43.3, contrasted with an optimistic 53.6 for those not job-sensitive. Overall, the reading is 48.7.
• Our Presidential Leadership Index stands at an optimistic 52.3 for all Americans. But for job-sensitive households, it's a pessimistic 45.1 vs. 58.4 for ones not job-sensitive.
• President Obama gets an A or B grade from 32% of all Americans for creating jobs and economic growth. But most (52%) of job-sensitive households give him a D or F, and only 24% of them give him good grades.
• Yet another of our indexes measures economic stress, with the higher the number, the greater the stress. This month's index for job-sensitive households registered 71.4 compared with 48.5 for non-job-sensitive households — a whopping 22.9-point difference. The overall index is 59.
Interestingly, job sensitivity is not uniform across parties. Democrats have the lowest share of job-sensitive households at 36%, and Independents have the highest at a shocking 57%. For Republicans, the share of job-sensitive households is 42%.
Did the recession affect Independents the most? Or does the difference simply reflect a recent trend in which Americans unhappy with both the parties have drifted away to become Independents?
Large segments of Independents qualify as both job seekers and concerned.
More than 1 in 3 (34%) of Independent households identify themselves as job seekers, while only 23% of Democratic households and 27% of Republican households do so.
Similarly, 2 in 5 (40%) of Independent households are concerned, compared with 29% for Democrats and 31% for Republicans.
A Time To Vent
The midterm elections will likely serve as an outlet for job-sensitive households to vent their frustration.
Job-sensitive households prefer Republicans gaining control of Congress to Democrats retaining control by a margin of 45% to 35%. Job seekers prefer Republicans to Democrats 41% to 40%, but those concerned about their jobs prefer Republicans to Democrats by 46% to 33%.
Non-job-sensitive households prefer Democrats to Republicans by 47% to 40% margin.
When asked who would do a better job of improving the job situation in the country, job-sensitive households favor Republicans over Democrats 32% to 29%, while non-job-sensitive ones favor Democrats 43% to 26%.
• Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the last two presidential elections.