News Release

New Kaiser/New York Times/CBS News Poll Looks at Experiences of Americans Who are Not Employed and What It Would Take to Get Them Back to Work

Most Americans in prime working age who aren’t currently employed hope to return to work in the future, though family responsibilities, health issues and a lack of good jobs pose significant challenges, finds a new survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, The New York Times and CBS News.

Rather than focusing only on those who meet the official government definition of unemployment, this survey takes a broad look at all adults of prime working age (25-54) who are not working, regardless of their desire for work or job-seeking activities. Conducted to shed light on recent trends in the nation’s employment market, the survey probes why they are not working, how they get by financially, what it would take to get them working, and – for those who used to work – how being out of work has changed their lives. Each news organization plans a series of reports drawing on the survey’s findings, beginning with a segment last night on the CBS Evening News and a story this morning in The New York Times.


The survey’s findings include:

  • Prime age adults who are not working make up 13 percent of the total U.S. adult population. About a third (34%) of this group says they have a disability that prevents them from doing any kind of work for at least the next 6 months. The others say they are able to work, including about a quarter each who consider themselves unemployed and homemakers, one in 10 who call themselves students and 4 percent who say they are retired.
  • Almost two-thirds of those who are disabled and unable to work (64%), and of those who consider themselves unemployed and able to work (63%), say their employment situation is a source of stress in their lives, including about four in ten who say it’s a major source of stress.
  • Among the previously employed who now consider themselves unemployed and able to work, about half say they have borrowed money from family and friends (50%) or put off needed health care (47%) as a result of being out of work. More than four in ten say they have taken money out of savings or retirement to pay bills (43%), and more than a third say they’ve been contacted by a collection agency (35%) or changed their living situation in order to save money (35%).
  • Those who are unemployed, able to work, and have looked for a job in the past year report being willing to make various sacrifices such as taking an entry-level job in a new field (86%), returning to school or a job training program (81%) or working non-traditional hours such as nights or weekends (77%). Six in ten (61%) say they’d work for minimum wage, and nearly seven in ten (69%) of those who used to work say they’d take a 10 percent pay cut from what they earned at their last job. Nearly half say they’d be willing to move to a different city (45%) or take a job that requires more than an hour commute each way (46%).


An overview and full survey results are available on the Foundation’s website.

The survey was designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at the Foundation, the Times, and CBS News, and was conducted from November 11-25 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,002 adults between the ages of 25-54 who are not employed either full-time or part-time. Telephone interviews conducted by landline and cell phone were carried out in English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on the full sample; for subgroups the margin of sampling error is higher.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270 | Email Alerts: | |

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.