74% Believe U.S. Still in Recession

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Seventy-four percent of Americans believe that the nation is still in a recession, which may be a sign that the lower and middle classes are still anxious about unemployment, the value of their homes and stagnant wages.

In a new Fox News poll, when asked “For you and your family, does it feel like the recession is over, or does it feel like the country is still in a recession?” only 22% said they believed the downturn had ended. The 74% is better than the 86% from the poll in September 2010, but only barely, if the “improvements” in gross domestic product and unemployment rates are taken into account.

The results are troubling if people’s beliefs affect their behavior. It has been assumed that as unemployment fells and home prices made a modest recovery, Americans would become more likely to be aggressive consumers. But recent data tell otherwise. Holiday sales were poor by most measures. There is little sign that the median household income of Americans has moved much above the $51,000 that the Census Bureau reported for 2012, and in real dollars this is down from a decade ago. A recent Pew study found that:

But starting in the mid- to late 1970s, the uppermost tier’s income share began rising dramatically, while that of the bottom 90% started to fall. The top 1% took heavy hits from the dot-com crash and the Great Recession but recovered fairly quickly: according to Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at UC-Berkeley, preliminary estimates for 2012 (which will be updated next month) have that group receiving nearly 22.5% of all pretax income, while the bottom 90%’s share is below 50% for the first time ever (49.6%, to be precise).

While there is no direct link between the two studies, the results from the Pew research may help explain the Fox News poll results. Apparently, many Americans feel left behind whatever recovery has happened — or they do not believe the recovery ever happened at all.

Methodology: The Fox News poll is conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Company Research. The poll was conducted by telephone with live interviewers January 19 to 21, among a random national sample of 1,010 registered voters. Results are of registered voters, unless otherwise noted.