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By Allison Linn Senior writer
updated 7/26/2010 4:29:11 PM ET 2010-07-26T20:29:11

Despite being warned for years to save, almost half of Americans face the worst-case scenario if they are laid off: out of work and out of money.

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Forty-five percent of Americans surveyed by insurer MetLife said they could not pay their bills for more than a month if they lost a job, and 65 percent said they couldn’t cover their expenses for three months.

Though they lack a financial cushion, many Americans are fearful that they could find themselves out of work. The 2010 MetLife Study of the American Dream, conducted from April 14 to 21 and released Monday, found that 55 percent of Americans are concerned they will lose their job.

As the nation struggles to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, those fears are clearly warranted. As of June, 9.5 percent of American workers, or 14.6 million people, were out of work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About half of those workers, of 6.8 million people, had been jobless for six months or more.

Despite such grim statistics, MetLife researchers saw glimmers of hope in the survey results. Beth Hirschhorn, senior vice president of global brand and marketing services for MetLife, said the figures actually showed an improvement over last year, when 50 percent of Americans said they could not go more than a month without a paycheck.

“The only silver lining is that people have taken notice and they’re making changes,” Hirschhorn said.

In general, she said this year’s study showed that Americans were most action-oriented than a year earlier, and more focused on financial responsibility. Three-quarters of Americans reported that they had cut spending, and more people said that being financially responsible was key to achieving the American dream.

“A year ago more people were talking about what they were going to do,” she said. “Now, we see that they have done things.”

The bank of family
Still, millions of Americans are struggling financially, and the MetLife survey showed that families are taking up the slack. Nearly half of those surveyed said they had given money to a family member so they could pay their bills.

Hirschhorn said the results show that a huge number of Americans are relying on “the national bank of family” just to stay afloat.

“This lending is lifeline lending,” said

William M. Rodgers, professor of public policy at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, said one reason many Americans haven’t been able to save for a potential job loss is because they came into the recession still struggling from the weak economy of 2000 and 2001.

“When we entered this recession back in December of 2007, Americans were probably the most vulnerable they’ve ever been before,” Rodgers said.

Still, Rodgers said he also is seeing evidence that the recession has been a wake-up call.

“It’s forced us, in many ways, to change our priorities. It’s forced us to recognize that we can’t live beyond our means,” he said.

Even though many Americans want to change their spending habits, progress is expected to be slow. That’s because many continue to deal with relatively high debt levels, a weak economy and a feeling that just covering the basic necessities continues to get more expensive.

“They’re trying to dig themselves out of such a deep hole,” Hirschhorn said.

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