The department of labor’s February jobs report is out, and unemployment dropped 1 percent in just three months, to 8.9 percent. It’s the biggest drop in 28 years. The inverse relationship between unemployment and public concern about the environment means Grist readers have even more reason to celebrate. Now that people don’t have to worry about whether they’ll still have a home next month, they can start worrying about whether they’ll still have a planet in 50 years.

graph of employment vs. environmental concernImage: Pew

Pretty much every study on the subject ever says that when the economy recovers, Americans turn their attention back to the preservation of natural capital. So says the graph above, which came from this 2009 survey from the Pew Research Center.

To understand why, turn the green line in that graph — concern about protecting the environment — upside down and you get the dashed blue line — the unemployment rate. In other words, the two are intimately (negatively) correlated in the minds of Americans:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The public at large perceives that economic growth and environmental protection cannot be pursued at the same time.

A Rasumussen poll from 2009 confirms it:

[W]ith 46% of the American public believing [environmental protection and economic growth] to be irreconcilable, and only 32% believing the two to be reconcilable.

Ditto this survey of Google searches from 2010:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

By comparing Google searches to unemployment rates in each state, Kahn and Kotchen found that when unemployment increases by 1 percent, people reduce their Googling for “global warming” by 5.2 percent, while upping their searches for “unemployment” by 6 percent.

… And this survey from 2011 of behaviors in China:

Compared with their busy brethren, unemployed people in China engage in fewer green activities like sorting their trash, recycling plastic bags and volunteering in environmental organizations, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Conservation.

This may be part of why everyone’s so butthurt at Obama. During the last two recession-riddled years, his administration has still been making efforts to protect the environment, which apparently nobody could give a crap about until they’re feeling comfortable again.

Read more:

February jobs report: Unemployment falls againCNNMoney
Unemployment and Environmental Protection” Wildlands CPR
Unemployment hurts the environment, researchers say” TBD