WASHINGTON -- Dawn Andrade of North Highlands, Calif. worked as a customer service administrator for an IT company for most of her adult life before getting laid off five years ago. Since then she's had a succession of jobs, each paying less than the one before.
Right now, she's earning $8.75 an hour in a call center, helping people with the debit cards on which they receive unemployment insurance payments. "I answer calls for people in California, New Jersey and South Carolina," she said, explaining that people call to say, "Where's my money? How come I don't have my money?"
Before that she earned $9.40 per hour working part time for a company that sold chocolate strawberries, and before that she worked seven months for a propane company that paid $12 hourly. And before that, after her original career fell apart, she worked in a different call center. Andrade, 57, doesn't understand why she's wound up with such unstable employment after a long career.
"I talked to other people because sometimes I think maybe it's just me," she said. "They experience the same thing."
It's not an unusual experience: Americans are more likely to say their current employment situation is a step down from five years ago than a step up, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll has found.
According to the poll, 25 percent of Americans said their job situation is a step down from what it was five years ago, while 19 percent said it's a step up. Nearly half, or 47 percent, said that their job situation hasn't changed much.
Not surprisingly, the new survey finds that a large number of Americans have been impacted by underemployment over the last five years. Twenty-nine percent said they've worked in a job below their skill level because they were unable to find a job that matched their qualifications, and 20 percent said they've worked a part-time job because they couldn't find full-time work.
In March, 7.6 million Americans, or roughly 5 percent of the labor force, were working part time only because they can't find full-time jobs, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Paradoxically, survey respondents were even more likely to say that they've been overemployed, working longer hours than they wanted to because they needed the money to get by. Thirty-seven percent said they'd done so in the past five years. Another 26 percent say they've worked more than one job because they needed the money.
Americans in the lowest income bracket (in households with income under $40,000) were the most likely to say that they'd worked multiple jobs, part-time jobs when they couldn't find full-time work, or longer hours than they wanted to, or that they'd taken a job below their skill level. But the difference between the lowest and the highest income groups was least pronounced on the issue of working longer hours. Thirty-four percent of respondents in households making more than $100,000 and 39 percent of those in households making less than $40,000 said that they had done so at some point in the last five years.
Only respondents whose household income is more than $100,000 were more likely to say that their current situation is a step up than a step down.
The new survey is not the only one to find that Americans who are already getting by with less have borne the brunt of the recession. A Pew Research Center study released last week found that the net worth of the wealthiest seven percent of Americans has gone up by 28 percent over the last two years, while for the other 93 percent of Americans wealth has stagnated, dropping by four percent.
Andrade said she's tried and tried to find a job as good as the one she lost when the Great Recession started, but the odds have been against her. According to the Labor Department, a majority of workers who lost long-held jobs and have since returned to work in recent years are earning less than they used to.
Worried her skills might dull, Andrade took a class to brush up on office programs like Word and Excel, but feels trapped in crummy call center jobs -- not so trapped, however, that she's lost her optimism.
"I diligently look for work. I've gone on a ton of interviews," she said. "Sometimes I just get defeated but you have to just stay on top, have to be one step of ahead."
The poll was conducted April 18-19 among 1,000 adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.