88% of Online Americans Have Used the Internet in the Past Year for Help in Coping with the Recession and Understanding It

Contact: Aaron Smith, Pew Internet & American Life Project, 202.419.4500


Washington, DC - 07/15/2009 - According to a new report by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, some 69% of all American adults—fully 88% of internet users—have gone online to get help with personal economic issues that have arisen in the recession and to gather information about the origins and solutions to national economic problems.

The internet ranks high among sources of information and advice that people are seeking during hard times, especially when it comes to their personal finances and jobs. Among broadband users, the internet is the top source for material on personal coping strategies during the recession. At the same time, broadcast media outpace the internet as sources of news about national economic affairs.

Those hard hit by the recession are among the most avid and wide-ranging internet users for advice and understanding. Some 52% of American adults have either lost their jobs, seen their investments fall by more than half their value, suffered a pay cut, watched their house lose half its value, or lost their job outright during the downturn in the past year.

Much of the report deals with a subpopulation the Pew Internet & American Life Project calls “online economic users.” They are the 88% of online Americans who have used the internet for financial or recession-related purposes. Overall, 34% of online economic users have created content and commentary about the recession in places like blogs, social network sites and Twitter.

“Internet users are on a dual quest in this recession” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and co-author of a new report based on a nationwide phone survey about internet use during the recession. “They are seeking highly practical advice about how to survive. And they are going online to gain understanding of what went wrong, and what policies might fix the economy. In many cases, the internet is also a pathway to contributing ideas – and rants – about hard times and a source of expert commentary.”

The Pew Internet report, “The Internet and the Recession,” comes from a national phone survey of 2,253 adults (those 18 and older), including 561 cell-phone interviews. The overall sample has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Here are the main recession-related activities of online economic users in the past year:

  • Price comparisons: 67% of online economic users have used the internet to find the lowest price available for something they need to buy.
  • General understanding: 52% of online economic users have used the internet to help them comprehend the nation’s economic problems.
  • New jobs: 41% of online economic users have sought information in the past year about jobs that might be available.
  • Seeking online coupons for savings: 40% of online economic users searched on the internet for cost-saving coupons.
  • Help in spending less on everyday items: 27% of online economic users have used the internet to get material on the cost of everyday purchases.
  • Earning more money and second jobs: 27% of online economic users have been online hunting for tips about ways to earn more money or exploring the prospects for getting a second job.
  • Advice about protecting personal finances: 25% of online economic users have gone online seeking information about ways to protect their finances in a difficult economy.
  • Improving skills for a better job: 25% of online economic users have used the internet to seek material about how to improve their skills to qualify for better jobs.
  • Sell personal items online: 23% of online economic users have used auction sites or classified ad sites to sell personal items to raise money.
  • Unemployment benefits: 22% of online economic users sought material online about unemployment and other government benefits.
  • The value of my house: 18% of online economic users have used the internet to check up on the value of their house.
  • Rankings or reviews of financial companies and professionals: 17% of online economic users went online to check reviews of financial firms and professionals.
  • Information about getting a loan: 13% of online economic users went online to check out ways to get loans.
  • Filing for bankruptcy: 3% of online economic users used the internet to look for information about filing for bankruptcy.
While online channels play an important role, Americans frequently turn to multiple sources to understand the economic environment and how it relates to their own personal financial situation. Indeed, the most internet-savvy individuals rely heavily on their own personal networks of friends and family to help navigate the recession and contextualize the material they find online.

“The best way to understand these online Americans is that they are networked individuals using networked information,” agued Aaron Smith, Research Specialist at Pew Internet and co-author of the report. “Theirs is not an ‘either-or’ world of single information sources. Many aggressively forage among a variety of sources and communicate with a range of people as they try to navigate some rough seas.”

Read the full report The Internet and the Recession on the Pew Internet & American Life Project's Web site.

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