Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

American Economic Optimism Remains Low, Potentially on the Mend

By Jacob BarnesPublished November 9, 2014

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The results of a recently published survey conducted by the Pew Research Center show US economic optimism to be on the rise. While this may be a step in the right direction, the glass remains half empty for almost 4 in 5 Americans.
By Jacob Barnes, 11/9/14

The results of a recently published survey conducted by the Pew Research Center on US economic optimism show the glass remains half empty for almost 4 in 5 Americans.

Of those surveyed in the Center's national survey conducted in August, just 21 percent believe the economy to be in excellent or good shape, while the vast majority of respondents believed the economy to be in fair (48 percent) or poor (31 percent) condition. As deplorable as these statistics prove to be, they actually show a significant improvement since the beginning of the year, with those believing the economy to be in poor overall shape dropping 8 points in the months latter, and those believing it to be in excellent or good shape jumping 5 points.

With the national fight for increases in state and federal minimum wage rates raging on, a majority of respondents (56 percent) believe their family income to be falling increasingly behind the cost of living. Seventy percent of respondents with incomes below $30,000 believe themselves to be falling behind this standard for comfortable living, with over half of respondents with family incomes between $30,000 and $75,000 believing they are falling behind (56 percent).

The survey additionally assessed Americans' frequency of experiencing "serious financial hardships." Defining these hardships as one of 5 occurrences—trouble getting or paying for medical care, problems paying rent or mortgage, problems with collection agencies, getting laid off or losing a job, or having hours reduced or being asked to take a pay cut—the Center found 45 percent of respondents to have experienced at least one of these events in the past year. Two out of three respondents with family incomes less than $30,000 a year proved to have had to deal with at least one of these issues, with many forced to deal with multiple. Whites (38 percent) were far less likely to have had to deal with a serious financial hardship than Blacks (65 percent) or Hispanics (62 percent). The results also show the economic hardship faced by Millennials in the job market still recovering from the 2008 recession, with over half (54 percent) having experiences at least one of these events over the past year.

Nor is this negative outlook confined to the US. In a survey conducted earlier this year by Pew, sixty percent of the almost fifty thousand respondents across 44 countries see their country's economy to be performing poorly, while 69 percent are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country.

Amidst the pessimism of the current state of the US economy, however, the majority of Americans still believe the economy to be recovering as a whole. The percentage of respondents believing jobs in their local economy to be plentiful has risen 11 points from its December 2012 low of 22 percent. Three out of four believe the economy to be recovering to some degree, although the great majority believes it to be a slow progression.