March 18, 2010

Gloomy Americans Bash Congress, Are Divided on Obama

Section 4: National Economy and Personal Finances

Americans continue to offer negative views of the national economy. A majority (53%) of the public says economic conditions are poor and 39% say conditions are only fair. Only 7% rate the economy as excellent or good. Ratings of the national economy have remained very low for about two years. But far fewer say that economic conditions are poor than did so a year ago; in March 2009, 68% rated the national economy as poor.

Not only are assessments of the nation’s economy are quite negative, many think it will take time for the economy to improve. Nearly half (48%) of Americans say it will be a long time before the economy recovers; 37% say the economy is not yet recovering but will recover soon, and only 13% say the economy is now recovering.

Republicans and independents offer more negative assessments of current economic conditions and are more likely to think that recovery will take a long time. Majorities of Republicans (61%) and independents (57%) say the nation’s economy is in poor condition, compared with 43% of Democrats.

Similarly, 54% of Republicans and 51% on independents say that it will be a long time before the economy recovers. Democrats are more optimistic; 42% say the economy is not yet recovering but will recover soon while 39% say that it will be a long time before the economy recovers.

When asked which economic issue is most worrisome, 45% cite the job situation, far more than the percentage saying the federal budget deficit (22%), rising prices (17%) or problems in the financial and housing markets (11%).

There are significant differences in the top national economic worry by party affiliation and income. Republicans are about as likely to say the budget deficit (35%) is their top concern as cite the jobs situation (39%). By comparison, 55% of Democrats say jobs is their top economic worry, 19% say rising prices and only 12% mention the deficit. About four-in-ten (41%) independents say jobs is their top national economic worry and 25% cite the budget deficit.

Among those with family incomes less than $30,000, 47% mention jobs and 24% cite rising prices as their top national economic worry; only 13% mention the deficit. But among those earning $75,000 or more, 38% cite jobs and 33% say the deficit is their top economic concern.

Jobs Scarce Locally

Fully 85% now say that jobs are difficult to find in their community, up from 80% in February 2009 and 53% a year earlier. Only 10% of Americans say there are plenty of jobs available in their area.

About nine-in-ten (92%) of those with family incomes of less than $30,000 a year say that jobs are difficult to find in their local community. Yet perceptions of the local job market are only somewhat better among more affluent Americans: 75% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more say that jobs are hard to find in their local community.

More Households Hit by Joblessness

Over the course of the past year, 70% of Americans say they have experienced at least one job-related or other personal financial problem, an increase from 59% who reported having one of these problems in February of last year. In particular, the proportion of Americans who report that over the previous 12 months that they or someone in their household has been without a job and looking for work is now 15 points higher than it was last year (54%, from 39%).

Consistent with these reports of financial problems, Americans’ overall assessments of their personal financial situations continue to be largely negative. About six-in-ten (61%) now say their financial situation is only fair (39%) or poor (22%), virtually unchanged since late 2008. However, there has been an uptick in optimism about the future; 61% now say they think their personal financial situation will improve in the next year, up from 53% in December and 54% in February 2009.

The increase in the proportion of Americans who say that they or someone in their household has been out of work in the past year has occurred across most demographic groups. Nevertheless, younger, less-educated and lower-income Americans remain more likely than older and more affluent people to say they have been affected by unemployment.

Seven-in-ten (70%) of those younger than 30 report household unemployment, compared with 58% of those 30 to 49 and 52% of 50 to 64-year-olds. Those 65 and older are less likely than younger people to report that someone in their household is unemployed and looking for work (29%); yet even among those in this age group there has been a 10-point increase in the percentage reporting household unemployment over the last year.

Majorities of those with a high school education or less (61%) and those with some college experience (54%) report having experienced household unemployment. Among both groups, this is up 15 points from February 2009. While household unemployment among college graduates has also risen, far fewer than those in other groups report this (41%). The pattern among income groups is similar, as two-thirds of those with annual family incomes of less than $30,000 (66%) report household unemployment, co
mpared with 39% of those with annual family incomes of $75,000 or more.

Blacks (52%) and whites (50%) and are now about equally likely to say someone in their household has been unemployed over the past year. In February 2009, African Americans were more likely than whites to say this was the case (47% vs. 32%). The percentage of whites who report experiencing household unemployment has risen by 18 points, while the percentage among blacks has increased only slightly (by five points).

Poor Are Hit Hardest

Across a number of measures of financial hardship, low-income Americans consistently report more problems than those in higher income groups. This is little changed since last year.

The gap is particularly pronounced when it comes to medical costs, as 44% of those with family incomes of $30,000 or less say that they have had trouble getting or paying for health care in the past year, compared with 11% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more. There are also significant gaps in the percentages reporting difficulties paying rent or mortgage (37% vs. 11%), problems with credit or collection agencies (33% vs. 11%), and being laid off (26% vs. 12%).

About a quarter of all Americans (24%) – 39% of those who are currently employed – say that they have gotten a pay raise or or a better job over the past year. That is modestly lower from February 2009, with the decline coming entirely among employed people with family incomes of less than $75,000 a year.

Slightly more than a third (36%) of those with family incomes between $30,000 and $74,000 say they have gotten a pay raise or a better job in the past year, down from 48% in February 2009. Similarly, there has been a 10-point decline in the percentage of those with incomes of less than $30,000 who have gotten a raise or better job.

By contrast, while those with higher incomes are no better off than in early 2009 – in terms of self-reported raises or better jobs – they are no worse off. Currently, 48% of of employed people with family incomes of $75,000 or more say they have gotten a raise or better job in the past year, which is virtually unchanged from February 2009 (49%).

Concern about Future Job Problems

In the face of current difficulties, many workers continue to anticipate problems with their jobs in the next 12 months. About half of all workers (49%) say it is very or somewhat likely they will face at least one job-related financial stress in the next year, which is largely unchanged from February 2009 (46%).

About a quarter of workers say it is likely that they will be asked to take a cut in pay (25%), be laid off (24%), have their health care benefits reduced or eliminated (23%), or have their retirement benefits reduced or eliminated (22%). Somewhat fewer (13%) say it is likely that their employer may go out of business or relocate.

As with experiences over the past year, workers with lower incomes are more likely to anticipate job-related problems; nearly six-in-ten (59%) say it is very or somewhat likely they will experience one or more of these job-related problems. By comparison, there is little change in the likelihood of these problems among moderate and higher incomes; about half say it is likely they will experience at least one of these problems.

In particular, concern that they may be laid off has risen considerably over the last year among workers with family incomes of $30,000 or less. Among this group, 36% say it is likely they may be laid off, up 17 points from last February and in contrast to just 15% of workers with incomes of $75,000 or more. Similarly, the proportion of those in the lowest income group who say it is very or somewhat likely that their employer may go out of business or relocate has grown to 25% from 14% a year ago; and this group is considerably more likely than those other income groups to say this.