Public Says Government Has Done Little for Middle Class Since Recession

Diana Meza-Ehlert watches as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address with her son Lucas, left, and daughter Anais, right, at their home Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in San Diego. Obama's next-to-last State of the Union address spoke to the economic woes of beleaguered low income Americans and the country's shrinking middle class. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)Gregory Bull / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

More than seven in ten Americans say that the government’s economic policies have done little or nothing to help middle class people or small businesses since the recession, a new poll from the Pew Research Center finds. But majorities say that big banks, corporations and the wealthy have benefited from government action.

In the survey, 72 percent of respondents said that government policies have not helped middle class people much or at all, with just 26 percent saying that such plans have helped the middle class “a great deal” or “a fair amount.” Sixty-eight percent said that small businesses have not benefited much or at all, and 65 percent said the same of poor people.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

The public instead sees elite organizations and powerful people as the primary winners from government policies since the financial crisis. Broad majorities cite big banks (71 percent), major corporations (67 percent) and the wealthy (66 percent) as beneficiaries of government economic plans.

The Obama administration argues that the White House’s policies have helped the nation bounce back from a recession that sent unemployment soaring for much of Obama’s early presidency. “At this moment -- with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy production -- we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth,” Obama said in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

Democrats point to several economic indicators to illustrate the recovery, including unemployment rates back under six percent and a roaring stock market.

It’s true that Americans are more optimistic now about America’s unemployment and income levels.

Two-thirds of those polled (67 percent) say the job situation in the United States has fully or partially recovered, a jump of 20 percentage points since September 2013. Fifty-four percent said that household incomes are fully or mostly back to normal since the recession, up 10 points from 18 months ago.

But about four-in-ten Americans still say that household incomes haven’t recovered at all. And about a third believe that unemployment remains stuck in the doldrums.

The poll of 1,504 American adults was conducted Feb. 18-22.