American Pessimism Soars

West side view of the United States Capitol building.
West side view of the United States Capitol building.

Americans have examined their prospects for the balance of this decade and do not like what they see. The pessimism of the population could hamper job growth and undermine consumer spending, each of which will have wide-ranging effects on the U.S. economy.

According to new data from Gallup:

U.S. President Barack Obama begins his second term at a time when Americans are as negative about the state of the country and its prospects going forward as they have been in more than three decades. Fewer than four in 10 Americans (39%) rate the current status of the U.S. at the positive end of a zero to 10 scale.

Gallup's conclusion about what the data means is a cynical one:

The bright side for the Obama administration is that the current low assessments leave much room for improvement.

Gallup does not mention what the catalysts for the improvement might be. Perhaps Americans worry about the rise of China or the ripple effects of trouble in the Middle East. It is more likely that economic prospects are at the core of the worry.

The Gallup poll opens the door to an examination of trends that often are spoken about individually, but not in terms of their aggregate effect. Aging Americans face an inability to fund their retirements, unemployment among the young still sticks at 25%, home prices may have recovered but are still well below the 2006 level to which they may not return at all in some parts of American, and real income barely has improved in a decade. There is sparse explanation among experts about why any of the problems might improve sharply or rapidly, particularly when the political mood is one of a retreat from the stimulus almost always necessary to salvage a problem economy. If anything, the nation's aging population faces potential weakening of the federal safety net, and those who are unemployed face an eventual end to unemployment insurance and no central plans to stir the parts of the jobs markets most decimated by the recession.

Americans have negative views about the future of the country because they have reason to have negative opinions about their own economic prospects.


Methodology: Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 7 to 10, 2013, with a random sample of 1,011 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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