The Economic Future: Doesn't look much better than today

December 12, 2013, 2:18 PM GMT+0

People are unsure about whether or not unemployment has fallen since President Obama took office, but people are sharply divided on how involved the federal government should be in encouraging employment.

Although the unemployment rate is lower now than it was at the time President Barack Obama assumed the presidency, a few months after the Great Recession began, the President gets little credit for that improvement. Years of increasing unemployment between then and now have left many Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll dissatisfied with government efforts to improve the situation and unsure about job creation in the future.

Although the current unemployment rate of 7.0 is now just about one point lower than what it was when Barack Obama took office in January 2009, many Americans see it as higher now than it was then. Nearly as many say the rate is higher today as say it is lower.

Of course, in between the two dates the unemployment rate did increase by more than two points before it began to decline. Nearly half of Republicans in the poll may be focusing more on that increase than on the current lower rate, as twice as many say the jobless rate has gone up, not down, since January 2009.

Looking ahead, Americans are just as likely to be pessimistic as optimistic, with as many believing the jobless rate will increase both in the next year and the next five years as to think it will decrease.

There is only a little more hopefulness about the longer time frame: 35% expect the unemployment rate to drop in the next five years. Republicans are twice as likely to be hopeful about job creation in the next three years as they are about job creation in 2014. As for the immediate future, only 20% think there will be more jobs in six months than there are today; 28% believe there will be fewer jobs.

But whatever the future jobless rate, very few think government is doing enough. Majorities agree that President Obama and the Congressional parties need to be doing more to create new jobs for Americans.

In this area, partisans are much more willing than usual to criticize their party’s leaders. Majorities of Democrats believe President Obama and the Democrats in Congress need to be doing more to create jobs; a majority of Republicans say their party’s representatives in Congress should be doing more.

But what that “more” should be is a matter of debate. Less than half want the government to use incentives, fees and regulations to help encourage employment, and nearly as many disagree and think the government should not be directly involved. And here the usual partisan divisions emerge. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats want the government to actively encourage employment; a majority of Republicans don’t.

The overall economic picture also is not improving. More Americans continue to see the economy as getting worse than as getting better – something that has been true for nearly all of Barack Obama’s Presidency. And less than half of Democrats are hopeful about the way things are going. Just 24% of them – and only 12% overall – say their family’s financial situation is better than it was a year ago.

A majority continues to disapprove of the way President Obama is handling the economy; only 37% approve. His overall approval rating remains about where it has been for months, though it has ticked up a little in the last few weeks. This week, 41% approve of how the President is handling his job overall, 56% disapprove.

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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