Americans begin to see employment gains

October 11, 2014, 1:28 PM GMT+0

As unemployment drops below 6% for the first time since 2008, Americans are finally beginning to notice the slow improvement in the economy

Americans may finally be seeing the beginnings of the end of the Great Recession. Although there have been steady declines in unemployment for years, many have not believed those improvements. But in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, the public is starting to recognize some change.

Although just one in four can state that the jobless rate released last Friday is below 6% (the first time that has been the case since 2008), half agree that it is lower today than it was when Barack Obama took office. Just 16% say it is higher now.

Economic perceptions continue to have a basis in politics. Half of Republicans and half of Democrats place the current unemployment rate below 7%, but twice as many Republicans as Democrats think it now exceeds 8%. And one in four Republicans say the jobless rate is higher today than it was when President Obama was inaugurated.

The unemployment rate is not the only measure of the health of the economy. The number of jobs has finally exceeded the number that existed at the beginning of the recession. Although only a third of the public knows this, the percentage saying there are fewer jobs now has finally dropped to just over a quarter.

Americans have two sources of information about the economy – the mass media and their own conversations with friends and families. While the perception of media coverage has improved, there is much less change in what people are talking about at home.

Since March, the share of the public that hears mostly negative news about the state of the economy has declined -- and now just a quarter say that. While those hearing mostly positive news has increased only incrementally, the gap between the two has shrunk this month to just eight points. The rest of the public falls into the middle category, equally hearing the good and the bad about the economy.

But while the news they say they are hearing has improved, Americans are still badmouthing the economy at home. The percentage saying their conversations with friends and family about the economy are mostly negative has declined only seven points in the last seven months. The percentage having mostly positive discussions has changed hardly at all.

Republicans are more likely to say they are hearing mostly negative news; still, just about half of them say the news they hear is either mostly positive or equally positive and negative. However, 60% of Republicans have been saying bad things about the state of the economy with their friends and families. Compared to last month, Democrats are more than twice as likely today to say their discussions about the economy are positive (and the balance is more positive than negative). Republicans have changed hardly at all in describing their conversations about the economy.

There is still a lot of economic concern. As many say there will be fewer jobs than there are today six months from now as believe the number of jobs will increase. Just 29% think the unemployment rate will continue to decline in the next year. Only a third have a positive assessment of where it will be five years from now.

And, as for the overall economic future, the public continues to be more negative than positive – though not by much. Most of the public thinks the economy is at least staying the same or even improving.

And the President has yet to see much benefit from whatever economic improvement Americans agree has taken place. His overall approval rating remains in the low forties (43% this week), while 51% disapprove. Just 38% approve of how he is handling the economy.

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.