American Economic Optimism Flat

November 5, 2010

Americans’ optimism about their standard of living is mostly flat compared with results in the past year, according to a new Gallup poll.

Optimism Declines Since Start of Recession

Fifty percent of upper-income Americans saying their standard of living is “getting better” in October 2010, unchanged from the prior three months and a year ago. Similarly, 45% of lower- and middle-income Americans say their standard of living is getting better, also essentially the same as readings from the prior three months and October 2009.

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However, the percentage of Americans saying their standard of living was getting better declined as the recession deepened in 2008. In fact, as the financial crisis worsened, making the recession even more pronounced during late 2008 and early 2009, upper-income Americans’ optimism about their standard of living declined to the point that it virtually matched that of their lower- and middle-income counterparts (39% compared to 36% in January 2009).

However, by October 2009, standard-of-living of optimism had increased across income groups to the level at which it stands today, with a five-percentage-point differential between Americans making more than and less than $50,000 a year.

Youngest Americans Most Optimistic

Optimism about future living standards is highest among younger Americans, and tends to decrease as age increases. In October 2010, 76% of Americans 18-29 said their standard of living is getting better, compared to 50% of Americans 30-49, 33% of Americans 50-64, and 23% of Americans 65-plus.

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Standard-of-living optimism has increased slightly among younger Americans but is largely unchanged across other age groups during the past year. However, optimism among 18-to-29-year-olds has increased about 50% since October 2008 (when 50% said their standard of living was getting better). There was also a close to 50% improvement in those two years among 30-to-49-year olds (35% said their standard of living was getting better in October 2008).

The two-year improvement was much less significant in the two oldest age brackets.

Southerners Most Optimistic

The percentage of Americans saying their standard of living is getting better is essentially unchanged across all regions of the country during the past year. Americans are slightly more optimistic about their future standard of living in the South (46%) and the West (45%) than they are in the East (42%). In all four regions, the percentage of respondents saying their standard of living is getting better has increased in the area of 33% since October 2008.

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Economy Leading Source of US Anger

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of all US adults are angry about the economy, according to a recent BBC World News America/Harris Poll. When given a list of current issues that make some people angry, 63% of US adults said they are angry about the economy. This barely beat the 62% of respondents who said they are angry about the government in general and about unemployment.

Other things that majorities are very or somewhat angry about are taxes (58%), immigration (56%), education (51%) and big business (52%). Fewer people are angry about same sex and gay rights (33%), the environment and energy issues (47%) and foreign policy (48%).

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