As lawmakers hold their breath for new unemployment numbers to be released Friday, workers who felt the sting of unemployment in 2008 and 2009 are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession almost three years later, according to the Rutgers University Work Trends survey released Thursday.

Fully two-thirds of recession-bit workers are dissatisfied with their standard of living, the complete opposite of the public overall in a Gallup poll this July in which 73 percent are satisfied. Most haven’t found full-time work and even among those who have, a majority reports accepting a cut in pay from their previous job.

The survey was conducted among workers who lost a job between September 2008 and August 2009. When first surveyed in August 2009, 19 percent of respondents had found a new job, but the pace slowed over the next two years. This August, 43 percent of the original respondents hold some form of employment (27 percent full time), and the number who has given up more than tripled from 5 to 17 percent.

Among those who don’t yet have a job, the outlook is particularly bleak. Fully half have been jobless for two or more years, and three quarters have been out of work for at least six months. More than half – 54 percent – are pessimistic about finding a job in the near future. Asked when they expect the next job to come along, 33 percent think they’ll get hired within six months, 34 percent expect it to take longer than that; the remainder say they’re not sure when they’ll get another job.

Besides the pessimism, fully 80 percent of still-unemployed respondents say their lack of employment has caused stress in relationships with their family and friends, and 27 percent report a “good deal” of stress. Among those unemployed for more than two years, 60 percent report selling possessions to make ends meet and borrowing money from family and friends, 55 percent have cut back on doctor’s visits or medical treatment and 38 percent have used food stamps.

As noted, those who have found work report setbacks as well: 52 percent of those who found work report a cut in pay from their last job, 49 percent call their new job "a step down" for them, and 44 percent say they took a job in a “very different” field than they previously worked. Most who found work report being on the hunt for at least six months, and almost one in three reports searching for over a year.

What do they think government should do?

Two-thirds of workers hit by unemployment support training programs to help people change careers, tax credits for businesses that hire new workers and direct creation of jobs by the government. Roughly six in 10 support increasing unemployment insurance as well as requiring those who receive it to enter training programs.

What’s the rub?

Two-thirds also favor cutting government spending to reduce the deficit as a way to boost job creation, a goal often at odds with other programs supported by workers who lost jobs during the downturn, including tax cuts, increasing unemployment insurance and spending more money on infrastructure.

The survey was conducted using the Knowledge Networks panel, made up of a random sample of households contacted via phone or mail to take surveys over the Internet. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points for the 675 respondents who participated the August 2011 survey, the latest in a series of interviews beginning in August 2009.

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