Many Americans Still Struggling; See Education as the Answer

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job interview Despite signs of recovery from the great recession, four in 10 Americans find themselves living lives of economic struggle, and worry about whether they'll be able to keep a middle-class lifestyle over the long term, according to a new Public Agenda survey funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Surprisingly enough, education ranks highest on their list of solutions.

Four in 10 Americans (40 percent) say they're struggling "a lot" in the current economy, while fewer than 20 percent say they're not struggling at all. More than one-third have lost their job in the past two years, and nearly one-third of those who are employed say they're "very worried" about losing their job.

Fully 77 percent of the struggling who also have children say they're "very worried" about paying for their child's college education. In addition, of the group overall, 61 percent are very worried about being able to retire, while 45 percent say they're very worried about paying back debt.

What we need

So what do people say they need most, according to the survey? When asked what would be "very effective" in helping those who are struggling economically, the public favors higher education and job training, along with preserving programs like Social Security and Medicare.

"Making higher education more affordable" led the list. "Preserving Social Security and Medicare" was next and expanding job-training programs came in third.

One reason for the faith in education may be the public's perception of who's struggling the most in the current economy. Three-quarters of Americans say that people without college degrees are struggling "a lot" these days, compared to just half who say college graduates are struggling.

"At Public Agenda we've tracked the growing importance the public has placed on higher education over the last dozen or so years, a finding that is particularly striking in this report. People have come to recognize that affordable higher education is crucial to the economic prospects of individuals and, by extension, their communities," said Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda. "This should hearten those who are working to make high-quality, post-secondary degrees and credentials more affordable to individuals and tax-payers alike."

"Many of the economic proposals discussed by political leaders don't resonate as strongly with the public," Friedman continued. "Neither cutting taxes for the middle class (48 percent) nor reducing the federal deficit (40 percent) get majority support. Despite the fact that many of the struggling people we surveyed said they had problems meeting their rent or mortgage, even fewer supported providing financial help to those "underwater," who owe more on their mortgage than their house is worth. Only 22 percent of the total and 31 percent of the struggling said that idea would be "very effective."

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