Americans are of two minds about the economy in the midst of an election race that largely hinges on the issue. They are strikingly pessimistic about the national economy yet comparatively upbeat about their own financial circumstances.
Just 42 percent of adults describe the U.S. economy as good, according to a survey released Wednesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But two-thirds say their own households are faring well.
The divide suggests that despite their own financial gains, many people worry about risks beyond their control — from a volatile stock market to another economic downturn. Just a third say they'd be very confident of finding another job if they were laid-off — a sign of vulnerability even though the Great Recession officially ended nearly seven years ago.
Some of the difference also reflects political views and education levels: Republicans are far more negative about the economy as President Barack Obama finishes his second term. And college graduates are more sanguine about a recovery that rewarded them while largely neglecting workers without college degrees.
The nation's unemployment rate has reached a healthy 5 percent, and workers' pay shows tentative signs of accelerating after years of barely budging. Auto sales hit a record in April. Housing and construction are rebounding. Americans are treating themselves to more restaurant meals.
But for every gauge of the economy that's pointing up, another has become cause for unease.
Hospitals have become dominant employers in most cities, yet health care costs are outpacing pay. Foreign imports have kept clothing and home appliance prices affordable. But those low-priced imports have cost U.S. jobs that in many cases haven't been replaced. Across the country, the low-educated are struggling.
And nothing has ignited the robust economic growth that Americans remember enjoying until the Great Recession struck in late 2007. The United States has endured a dreary recovery from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Just 23 percent of Americans say they think the economy will improve this year.