When will the economy recover from COVID-19? Americans believe it will take at least two years

May 17, 2021, 8:00 PM UTC

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has announced that the United States’ jobless rate for April was 6.1%.

The official jobless rate  is seen as a “fair” or better indicator or the nation’s economic health, but the latest Economist/YouGov poll shows that prices are equally important to Americans when they look at the country’s economic health. One-third of Americans (33%) consider the prices of goods and services as the best indicator of the economy’s performance. About three in 10 (31%) believe the unemployment rate is the best measure.

This poll was conducted after the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, but mostly before higher gasoline prices and shortages were seen in affected Southern and Eastern states. On Wednesday, after the poll was completed, the year-to-year inflation rate rose to 4.2%. Concern about rising prices in general affect people in all regions. Republicans (38%), as well as Americans with annual family incomes below $50,000 (36%), are the most concerned about prices: they are more likely to see it as the better indicator of economic health.  

Monthly Jobs Report
 

The public continues to view the jobless rate as they have for a while – as an inaccurate measurement of the number of people out of work. Fewer than one in four (22%) say the published rate is an accurate measure of joblessness, while 51% think there are more people out of work than are reflected in the Bureau of Labor Statistics count. That figure is slightly higher (54%) among those who have been laid off from work because of the pandemic or have a close friend or family member who has lost a job.  

How long until America’s economy recovers from COVID-19? 

Americans expect the pandemic’s impact on the economy to last for at least two more years. One-quarter (23%) of Americans anticipate recovery taking two years, and more than one-third (37%) say it will take longer. Just 4% say the pandemic’s impact is over now. Republicans are slightly more pessimistic than Democrats — 64% of Republicans think recovery will take two years or longer, compared to 59% of Democrats.  

Less well-off Americans are more pessimistic than those with higher incomes: 50% of those with a household income of $100,000 or higher think recovery will take at least two years, compared to 60% of those making less than $50,000 annually.  

Two years after the Great Recession of 2008, Americans were even more pessimistic about economic prospects. Two-thirds in a July 2010 Economist/YouGov poll believed it would take more than two years for the economy to recover from that economic devastation. 

Optimism or pessimism about the economy are often influenced by who is in the White House, with Republicans more optimistic when a Republican is president, and Democrats more optimistic with a Democrat in office.  

For example, in this week’s poll, half of Democrats (49%) expect there will be more jobs in six months than there are today, compared with 30% of Republicans who say that. A quarter of Republicans (26%) expect fewer jobs in six months, compared with only 9% of Democrats. Nearly half of Democrats (46%) say the economy is improving, compared to 17% of Republicans. 

But both those who think the economy is improving and those who say it is getting worse put the blame on – or give the credit to – President Biden. Whatever party they identify with, the public considers the economy as something that is within the president’s ability to control, with many believing it is something he can do “a lot” (46%) about.  

When Donald Trump was President, Democrats were more of the belief that presidents have a high degree of control of the economy; today Republicans expect more of President Biden.  

The President receives a positive rating when Americans are asked if they approve or disapprove of his handling of jobs and the economy: 50% approve and 41% disapprove. Four in five Democrats and one in five Republicans give President Biden a positive rating on this question. That is much like his overall approval rating: 51% approve of how Joe Biden is handling his job, while 39% disapprove.  

Related: Explore President Biden’s job approval rating 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between May 8 - 11, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample  

Image: Getty