The national jobless rate remains at historically low levels, yet fewer people now see the economy as improving than did so for much of 2018. More today say the economy is getting better than said so at the start of the Trump presidency. But many Americans can’t see a positive change in their own family’s economic situation, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll.
In early February 2018, 38% saw the economy as getting better. Today that percentage in eight points lower, even though the jobless rate has continued to drop since then, and is now just 3.6%. The unemployment rate has been 4.0% or less for 15 months.
However, only four in 10 know that the jobless rate is currently even as low as 5%.
Part of the difficulty the Administration has in making the case for a strong economy is political. Americans view the state of the economy through a partisan lens. 64% of Republicans today see the economy as improving, compared with only 5% of Democrats (the two parties’ positions were reversed during the Obama Administration). But Americans perceptions of their own personal finances haven’t changed much.
Other reasons exist for why the share that sees the economy as improving isn’t higher. An improving jobless rate doesn’t affect everyone equally. Almost as many adults claim their personal economic situations have gotten worse in the last year as believe they have gotten better, something that has been true throughout the Trump presidency. Again, the partisan differences are clear. Far more Republicans than Democrats believe their economic situation has improved in the last year, though a majority of Republicans do not see a personal change for the better.
In addition, despite the low unemployment rate, nearly all adults claim joblessness is still a serious problem nationally, and four in 10 say it is a serious problem locally. The share of workers who worry about losing their own job (36% in this poll) has changed hardly at all since Donald Trump took the oath of office in January 2017.
Less than a third accept the jobless rate as a good measure of the state of the economy. Half describe it as only a fair indicator or even a poor one. Most find other measures, like prices, are better indicators. As many view prices as the best measure of the economy’s health as describe the unemployment rate that way.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to label the unemployment rate the best measure of the state of the economy, but half of Republicans cite another measure. Nearly one in five overall take their own personal financial situation into consideration first when they assess the state of the country’s economy. Those who cite the jobless rate as the most important are more likely than those who look at prices to see the economy improving. More of those who pay attention to prices see the economy as getting worse than as getting better.
The economy is only one of the issues most important to Americans. Health care, immigration, and the environment are chosen just about as frequently. But it is the issue on which President Trump scores the best. His overall approval rating in this poll is negative (42% approve, 49% disapprove), but on the economy 49% approve and just 39% do not.
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