Economy Poll: From Lifestyles to Political Discontent, Economic Woes Still Take their Toll

Analysis by ABC News' Pollster Julie E. Phelan:

A near-record number of Americans call jobs difficult to find in their area, more than half say the long-running economic downturn has forced major changes in their personal lifestyle – and increasing numbers are upset or downright angry about it.

More than three and a half years since the recession began and more than two years after unemployment first cracked 9 percent, 82 percent of Americans still say the job market in their area is struggling – 2 points from the record in nearly 20 years of polls, set in December 2009.

Indeed nearly half in this ABC News/Washington Post poll call it “very” difficult to find jobs in their area, and among those who’ve had a layoff hit their household, more, 68 percent, call jobs very hard to find – a troubling assessment for the more than 14 million Americans looking for work.

More broadly, ratings of the national economy have remained consistently dreadful for more than three years. Ninety percent rate it negatively, including half who give the economy the most negative rating, “poor.”

Closer to home, a remarkable 74 percent in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, say they, someone in their household or a close friend or family member has been laid off in the last year. That includes nearly three in 10 who say it’s occurred in their own household, just slightly off its peak in December.

In terms of family finances, a mere 15 percent say they're "getting ahead financially" – nearly half what it was five years ago and tying the low set last year. Almost twice as many, 27 percent, say they are falling behind financially, up 6 points since February.

The toll is more than financial: 54 percent of Americans say they’ve had to change their personal lifestyle in a significant way because of the economy. And among those who have had to change, six in 10 are angry or upset about it (23 and 38 percent, respectively) up 16 points since April 2009.

These economic woes are interrelated. Among those who’ve lost a job, or had a household member lose one, 43 percent say they’re falling behind financially – 23 points higher than it is among those with no job loss in the household – and a remarkable 78 percent have had to change their lifestyle, 34 points higher than among those with no household job loss.

Those who’ve had a job loss at home, moreover, see little hope for improvement – 92 percent say jobs are difficult to land in their area, including, as noted, 68 percent who say jobs are “very” hard to find. That’s 27 points higher than it is among those who haven’t had a layoff hit their home.

HARDEST HIT – The long-term economic troubles are taking an especially big toll on less well-off and less-educated adults. Among those with household incomes under $50,000, nearly four in 10 say they’re falling behind financially, compared with14 percent of higher earners. It jumps to 53 percent among those earning less than $20,000 a year.

Likewise, six in 10 lower income Americans have had to make significant changes in their lifestyle because of the economy, 35 percent have had a job loss in their household and 54 percent say job opportunities in their area are very hard to find. Those are 16, 12 and 11 points higher, respectively, than among those earning more than $50,000 a year.

The economic situation also is causing considerable strife among less-educated adults. Among those who lack a college degree, 30 percent say they’re falling behind financially, 51 percent say jobs are very difficult to find and 57 percent have had to change their personal lifestyle significantly because of the economy. Those compare, respectively, to 18, 42 and 45 percent of college graduates.

THE BLAME GAME – Two and a half years after George W. Bush left office, he still takes the lion’s share of blame for these economic woes. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say actions taken by the Bush administration made the economy worse, vs. just 16 percent better, a net negative by 41 points.

The Obama administration and congressional Republicans are blamed about equally – with 37 and 39 percent, respectively, saying their actions made the economy worse. But Obama does better on the plus side – nearly three in 10 say he’s improved the economy. That’s down 11 points since October, but still more than the number who say the same about the GOP, just 16 percent. That’s a net negative of 8 points for Obama, 23 points for the Republicans in Congress.

There are partisan and ideological differences in assigning blame, with Republicans and conservatives less likely to point the finger at the Bush administration and congressional Republicans, while Democrats and liberals are less critical of the Obama administration. But even among Republicans and conservatives, just 30 and 28 percent, respectively, think the Republicans in Congress are making things better. More Democrats and liberals, 53 and 50 percent, respectively, praise the Obama administration.

Overall, though, Obama’s approval rating on handling the economy has slipped below 40 percent for the first time, to 39 percent. Fifty-seven percent disapprove, and strong disapprovers outnumber strong approvers by more than 2 to 1. Just 41 percent approve specifically of how he’s handling job creation.

Ratings for the Republicans in Congress on the economy and job creation are even lower than Obama’s, with just 28 and 26 percent approving, respectively.

Among Americans who say they’re falling behind financially, three-quarters disapprove of the GOP’s handling of the economy, and two-thirds disapprove of Obama’s approach, 11 and 13 points higher than these views among those who are either holding steady or getting ahead financially.

With the election year ahead, anti-incumbency peaks among those who say the economy’s in poor shape; 70 percent in this group are interested in looking for someone new from their district to send to Congress. Nearly all of those who say the economy’s in poor shape, 93 percent, also say they’re dissatisfied (54 percent) or even angry (39 percent) with the way the government’s working; so do 86 percent of those who call jobs hard to find in their area. Each is a reminder of the political power of a bad economy, as evident in 2008, again in 2010 – and as much a potential factor in 2012.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone July 14-17, 2011, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.

Analysis by Julie E. Phelan.

ABC News polls can be found at at

Media contact: Cathie Levine, (212) 456-4934.

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