Almost one in five Americans was laid off in the past three years, most with little or no warning and without severance pay, according to a survey released Monday.
Only 15 percent of those laid off were told two months ahead of time as required by the federal government, while almost one third got one or two weeks' notice of their fate and 34 percent got no warning at all, according to the Rutgers University survey.
The federal government requirement only extends to companies employing 100 or more.
The transition was made more difficult for the overwhelming majority of the unemployed by the absence of severance pay or benefits, according to the nationwide survey of 1,015 adults.
Just 31 percent were fortunate enough to receive severance pay, with another 28 percent reporting that their employers extended their health care benefits beyond their last day at work.
About three quarters went on to find other jobs, while the majority did so within six months, according to the report entitled "The Disposable Worker: Living in a Job Loss Economy."
However, 12 percent of those jobs were part-time positions and the remaining 25 percent had not returned to the work force by last month, when interviewees were questioned for the survey.
Seven percent of those polled had still not been able to find employment a year after leaving the workforce.
"It's taking people longer to find work after this recession than it did after previous downturns and more people are taking part-time work or lower-paying jobs than before," said Carl Van Horn, a professor at Rutgers and lead author of the report.
What's more, the 2001 recession and the ongoing contraction in many sectors of the US economy has created widespread insecurity among Americans about their job security and their job prospects, Van Horn said.
The feeling was particularly strong among those who had experienced unemployment, with 40 percent of this group saying they thought there was nothing they could do to safeguard their jobs.
Others suggested that the best strategy for holding on to a job was to work harder and avoid having to take sick days or holidays.
"There's an insecurity that they will be next," noted Van Horn.
The survey covered the period from the spring of 2000 to the spring of this year, incorporating the 2001 recession which economists say began in March and ended in November of that year.