Job gains yet to convince Americans the economy is improving

July 10, 2014, 4:32 PM GMT+0

The unemployment rate may be falling, but many Americans still perceive a stagnating economy

The steady – but slow – drop in the country’s unemployment still hasn’t convinced Americans that the economy is improving, even though the latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds an increasing number recognizing that the unemployment rate is lower now than it was when President Obama took office in January 2009.

However, that marginally improving assessment of the job rate continues to be guided by partisanship: more Republicans say the unemployment rate has increased since early 2009 than think it has gone down (49% to 30%).

The current 6.1% unemployment rate now matches the rate seen in late summer 2008, several months before that year’s presidential election.

But the changing – and improving – national statistical data is at odds with what Americans say they see and hear in the media as well as around their own dinner tables. Those talks with friends and family continue to be negative – nearly half this month say the personal conversations they have had about the economy have been negative.

Even though the jobless rate has declined more than half a point since YouGov and the Economist began asking this question about economic conversations, people still don’t talk about the economy in a good way. And that negativity comes from both Democrats and Republicans. Only 16% of Democrats say their discussions about the economy have been mostly positive.

Americans also say news stories they read about the economy are mostly negative – or are at least as negative as they are positive.

Last month the number of jobs created finally restored the number of jobs to the level that existed before the Great Recession. But Americans aren’t convinced that happened. Just as Americans said last month, more think there are fewer jobs today than there was before the Great Recession.

The confusion over whether jobs are being created has done little to make Americans feel better about the overall state of the economy. A third continue to think the economy is getting worse; just 23% in this week’s poll say it is getting better. While the picture is better than it was during 2011, the pattern of opinion has not changed appreciably much since 2012.

The President has struggled with the economy since he assumed office. In this week’s poll, just 39% approve of how Barack Obama is handling the issue, not much different from his overall 41% approval rating. Americans believe the President can do something about job creation and they also expect the government to encourage employment through various incentives.

Republicans often shy away from government actions; many often say in polls that they would like the government to stay out of private enterprise. But when it comes to jobs in this poll, Republicans are divided: 47% want the government to encourage employment through incentives, laws and regulations, up from 39% last month. 43% of Republicans say the government should stay out of the private sector. A majority of independents and eight in ten Democrats want the government to take action to create jobs.

There is some optimism for the future. Americans are more likely to think the unemployment rate will drop in the next year – and in the next five years – than to think it will rise. But in both cases, only about one in three expect things to get better. Majorities say instead there will be no change – or things will get worse.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.