How many Americans are aware of the unemployment rate?

August 12, 2020, 4:52 PM UTC

Pop quiz: do you know what the current unemployment rate is?  

Only one in four adults (24%) are aware of where it is today, according to data in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. Just as many (25%) believe it is lower than it is and nearly a third (31%) think it is higher. 

Quizzes aside, most Americans (86%) agree unemployment is a serious national problem. 

For the 15 percent of Americans who have been laid off due to the coronavirus, the situation appears even more dire: 62 percent of that group call unemployment a very serious national problem. But what is more telling is their personal reports of financial difficulties: half (49%) say they have had trouble paying housing costs while 41 percent have had trouble getting enough food for their family.  

Younger adults are more likely than older adults to be having trouble providing enough food and shelter. Republicans and Democrats have been equally affected. 

But joblessness can affect more than the individual. More than half (58%) of Americans have either been laid off because of the virus or have a close friend or family member who has lost a job. This is equally likely to happen to Democrats and to Republicans. 

Americans, whatever their employment status, believe there are more unemployed than official statistics suggest  About half, 53 percent, think more there are more jobless Americans than the government reports; Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to say the official rate is too low (70% vs. 33%). 

Americans believe the jobless rate, more than any other measure is the best indicator of the health of the economy. More than two in five (44%) of the public describe it that way.  

Half of registered voters believe the economy, whatever the situation is today, is getting worse. They see a relatively small difference between President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden when it comes to what will happen to the economy if either man were elected. The advantage among registered voters goes to Biden, despite the president’s overall positive rating on handling the economy (50% of registered voters approve, 44% do not), which is better than his overall approval rating. More than two in five (44%) believe the economy will get worse if the president is re-elected, while 39 percent say it will get better. If Biden wins, 41 percent say the economy will improve, 37 percent expect it will get worse. 

Most Americans think it will be a while before it is safe to stop social distancing and fully open the economy. Just 39 percent say it will be safe by the end of the year. Most of the nation, including most of those who have been laid off, continue to believe it is more important to prioritize protecting people from the health impact of the coronavirus than to prioritize protecting them from the economic impact.

MethodologyThis Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US registered voters interviewed online between August 9 – 11, 2020. The 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 3.5% for the overall sample.

Image: Getty