New poll finds widespread economic anxiety

Respondents in the survey fear their children's generation will have fewer opportunities -- and they blame Washington politicians.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 6, 2014 12:07PM
By Patrick O'Connor, The Wall Street Journal

Still scarred by a recession that ended five years ago, Americans are registering record levels of anxiety about the opportunities available to younger generations and are pessimistic about the nation's long-term prospects, directing their blame at elected leaders in Washington.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that despite the steady pace of hiring in recent months, 76 percent of adults lack confidence that their children's generation will have a better life than they do -- an all-time high. Some 71 percent of adults think the country is on the wrong track, a leap of 8 points from a June survey, and 60 percent believe the U.S. is in a state of decline.

What's more, seven in 10 adults blamed the malaise more on Washington leaders than on any deeper economic trends, and 79 percent expressed some level of dissatisfaction with the American political system.

"The American public is telling its elected representatives that the economic distress that a significant proportion of them are feeling is directly their fault," said Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who conducts the Journal poll with Republican Bill McInturff. "The public seems to have moved beyond the plaintive cry of 'feel our pain' to the more angry pronouncement of 'you are causing our pain.'"

That frustration is taking its toll on President Barack Obama and members of Congress. Mr. Obama registered his lowest-ever approval rating for his overall job performance and handling of foreign policy in the new Journal poll, as well as the worst personal favorability ratings of his presidency.

The president's approval rating dropped to 40 percent in this latest poll from 41 percent in a June survey, and he notched a disapproval rating of 54 percent, matching a previous high. Meanwhile, 36 percent approve of Mr. Obama's handling of foreign policy, compared with the 60 percent who disapprove -- his worst-ever marks.

Congressional Republicans fared even worse, with 54 percent of adults viewing them negatively and just 19 percent expressing positive views, a gap of 35 percentage points. Democrats in Congress were viewed negatively by 46 percent and favorably by 31 percent, a difference of 15 points.Image: Worried man © Corbis

This gloom sets the stage for a midterm election in which Americans, according to the early data, are less motivated to vote than in many previous cycles, a trend bound to complicate Democratic efforts to hold the Senate. But the lingering frustration with Washington also presents a hurdle for Republicans, who continue to fall further out of favor with women.

"If there was ever a hold-our-nose election, this certainly would be it," Mr. Yang said.

The latest Journal poll of 1,000 adults, conducted between Wednesday and Sunday night, found some signs of improvement in American views of the economy. Half of those polled said the economy is improving, and 49 percent think the U.S. is still in a recession, down from 58 percent last summer and 77 percent in 2008.

Sixty-four percent of those polled said they are still feeling some impact from the recession, down from the 71 percent who said they initially felt effects from the downturn when it began more than six years ago. Forty percent said someone in their household had lost a job over the last five years, and one of three said someone they live with was forced to take a job with a significantly lower income.

While hiring has picked up and job openings are at a seven-year high, growth in inflation-adjusted wages and family income has been distressingly slow. The Census Bureau says the income of the median, or typical, American family in 2012 was $51,017, or about the same as in 1995 adjusting for inflation. Median family income is about 8 percent below 2007 levels.

"I was doing better five years ago than I'm doing now," said Laura Colvin, 29, a fast-food worker in Jonesboro, Ark., whose hourly wage has risen less than a $1 over that period while her utility costs and the price of other goods and services have risen.

"We've always wanted our kids to have it better than we did, whether it's an education or a good job, and it just doesn't seem like I see that for my kids," said Luis Gomez, 64 years old, a land surveyor from Overland Park, Kan., who is worried about the costs of higher education for his 17-year-old son. "It feels like we're Japan, that the economy has flatlined."

In the survey, roughly a quarter of adults said they or their child has more than $5,000 in student-loan debt, and 25 percent said someone in their house had to take a second job just to pay the bills. The groups most impacted by the recession include: Latinos, white women between the ages of 35 and 49, people who make less than $30,000 and white working-class Americans.

A majority of those polled agreed with the statement that growing income inequality between the wealthy and everyone else "is undermining the idea that every American has the opportunity to move up to a better standard of living." Those impacted most by the recession were far more likely to hold that view.

This widespread discontent is evident among just about every segment of the population. Fifty-seven percent of those polled said that something upset them enough to carry a protest sign for one day. That included 61 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans, as well as 70 percent of adults who identify with the tea party and 67 percent of self-described liberals. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

With congressional approval ratings still hovering near all-time lows, a plurality of those polled said they want their vote in this fall's midterm election to be seen as a message that the country needs incumbents of both parties to lose to usher new people into Congress. Adults split more or less evenly between those who want their votes to be a referendum for, or a check on, Mr. Obama.

"I don't think they're working for the middle class," said Evan Coley, a 22-year-old resident of Albermarle, N.C., who works in an auto shop. "They're trying to help themselves more than anyone else."

Al McCauley, a 51-year-old from Greenboro, N.C., who is currently out of work, blames both parties equally for the dysfunction. "Both sides need to get their act together," he said. "They're not working with each other."

Republicans enjoy a narrow edge on the question of which party those polled want controlling Congress, but there are few signs at this point the party will enjoy a wave like the ones that swept Democrats to power in 2006 and Republicans back to the House majority in 2010.

"What we're seeing is a good Republican cycle, but not yet like the wave elections we saw in 2006 and 2010," said Mr. McInturff, the Republican pollster. While dissatisfaction with the nation's course and its president have marked prior "wave" elections in which one party made big gains, enthusiasm about the election remains low among all but the most conservative Republicans.

What's more, women continue to turn their back on the GOP. Women favor a Democratic Congress, 51 percent to 37 percent. The reverse is true for men. Republicans drew slightly more support from women than Democrats did in 2010, exit polls found, one reason for the large GOP gains in Congress that year.

—Nick Timiraos contributed to this article.

More from The Wall Street Journal

Aug 6, 2014 1:27PM

How can the economy improve when the President constantly threatens the business owners and investors with administrative regulation, taxation and forced, ever changing health care regulations.


Dictatorships with unpredictable leaders are never good environments for business.

Aug 6, 2014 1:41PM

Economic anxiety, let's see.

-The job market has not recovered & full recovery seems a very distant target.

-We remain in a QE mode.

-Equilibrium interest rates have been suppressed.

-The alleged ending of a recession five years ago is probably an illusion.

-There remain troubling problems around the world that we will not, cannot or are unable to fix or face.

So, what's to worry?

Aug 6, 2014 1:01PM
                                                 NO  SCHIDT !!!!

As a parent did we hope to give our children a better country than the one we were born into or came to?
Aug 6, 2014 1:34PM
How can a poll give these results?  Obama tells us daily we are in a recovery and things are great
Aug 6, 2014 2:02PM

It didn’t happen all at once, but the dream that was the United States of America, the Great Republic, has died. Other countries hostile to the idea of true freedom didn’t cause it; it wasn’t caused by a radical religious organization. The downfall of the United States was all from within its own borders, by its own people. The people, for whom others have died, have allowed the country to die a slow death. The me too, me first attitude that started many years ago, along with the idea that all are entitled to the fruits of others hard work, has allowed this country to bleed to death. When the British raised the tax on tea, our forefathers should have just shut up and paid the tax. Almost 240 years later, what has changed? Thousands have died for absolutely nothing.


Aug 6, 2014 1:35PM

-2.1% GDP makes americans feel the way they do about the economy?  Gee go figure.


Thanks obama

Aug 6, 2014 1:52PM

So this is what Obama meant by "fundamentally transforming the United States."  


And the majority of voters thought this was a good idea?  You all sold your souls, and continue to have your individual liberties stripped away, for this?  An insatiable runaway government with no one held accountable.


Better luck next time.....





Aug 6, 2014 2:30PM
I think many Americans are apprehensive but can't exactly say why.  What they feel but just can't quite grasp is that the New World Order, which our elected politicos have chosen without telling us, will for many many years drain Americans wealth and distribute it all around the globe to mostly peoples of  color.  Americans like most people are victims of their cultural dogmas and until Americans come to grip with the fact their Political Institution no longer represents them we as a people will get no where.  We have a compressing deflating economy and the old school thought of recovery is now a myth. Recovery implies we return to a former state.  We will not have a jobs or housing recovery.  We are merely in a stage of decline in both.  This decline is neither straight up or straight down but will occur in steps.  The outcome however is certain.  Americans will have a much lower standard of living going forward regardless of what any politician tells you.  JMHO
Aug 6, 2014 1:10PM

We are at one of the most pivotal moments in our country’s political history: Americans are more disillusioned with their political leaders than ever before and large majorities of citizens tell pollsters that big corporations have too much political power. The ever-tightening influence of big business on the mainstream media, elections and our local, state, and federal governments, have caused many Americans to believe they have no political voice.


Aug 6, 2014 1:45PM
When you need a poll to tell you the obvious, you aren't one of us.
Aug 6, 2014 3:29PM

Our schools are churning out a large number of socially advanced kids who can't think critically, can't coherently develop a subject matter, have a mediocre fund of real information, have no sophisticated method of inquiry,  and who compare poorly with the rest of the world's students. The dropout rate is woefully high.  There is rampant recreational drug use which wipes out attention span.  Hand held devices have replaced hand held books. All this and ad infinitum add up to a group of pipe dreamers with no marketable skills. As the old adages proclaim, "as you sow, so shall you reap"..."a calm sea never made a skillful mariner"..."you can only see what you know". The bleak future prospects for these kids stems from a lack of academic discipline, no intellectual curiosity or pursuit, and a sick work ethic. They have laid no groundwork for success. They should all look in the mirror and blame themselves.

Aug 6, 2014 1:36PM
Politicians buy votes, agitate class, gender and race conflict, surprise the public has anxiety. If you are doing well, check your privilege. 
Aug 6, 2014 3:30PM
Corporations and big business control Congress - even people in Congress admit this. Until that changes the people of this country are going to continue to struggle because the policies favor those that can influence (with money) the politicians. Even in Europe, people have more rights in the workplace than in our country - it's really shameful the scam that our government employs. Until the political process changes and prevents big money from influencing who runs for office and who wins elections, nothing will change. We need a populist uprising to change the direction this country is going!
Aug 6, 2014 2:43PM
The economy cannot improve if more people become dependent on government welfare and other social programs. Our system will fail when we run of other people's money.
Aug 6, 2014 3:35PM

With current and projected global human populations, the deterioration of lives for the many must continue apace, with an overall improvement for those only at the very top and the very bottom. Most lives are still, at base, little more than a wait for Death or for Santa Claus.


Doing what will have to be done will regrettably require a great extinction, one or more pandemics, or both. Fortunately, few now alive will have to endure the nightmare. Enjoy these days. There will be none so good again.

Aug 6, 2014 2:28PM
The reason why Humans always eventually self destruct, we always whine about what others have done without reflecting on the stupid things we ourselves have done wrong. Basically the Pot calling the Kettle Black.
Aug 6, 2014 4:28PM
 Until the political process changes and prevents big money from influencing who runs for office and who wins elections, nothing will change. We need a populist uprising to change the direction this country is going!--- True but we can run around the world and tell every other country how to set up a working democracy....ha
Aug 6, 2014 4:35PM
Congress writes the laws, Congress never goes back to review the laws and to correct problems and amend them. There are so many laws that are not working, poorly written, and need revision or just plain revoking. What the hell do those people do up there for the dollars the American people are paying them.
They fly in on monday and out on friday. Who wants a 3 day week, most of it is spent fund raising. ALL parties do it. They have big staffs too. All some of you can do is point to the President. He is here until 2016 as that is the democratic way. He won the election, get a grip.  Stop wasting your time and focus on the people you send up there in Nov.  
Aug 6, 2014 4:19PM
But... but... politicians and the media keep telling us everything is peaches and cream in the good 'ol USA. 
Aug 6, 2014 2:02PM
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