Economic Ratings Retreat Slightly Over Past Two Weeks

by Joseph Carroll

Americans also more pessimistic about finding a "quality job"


PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' perceptions about the state of the nation's economy are down slightly from a few weeks ago, suggesting that any momentum in consumer confidence that may have built up in May is not being sustained. Still, these ratings are more positive than they were in mid-April and early May. Americans also grew somewhat more pessimistic about the job situation in the country this month. Three in 10 Americans mention the economy as the most important problem facing the country today, which is down slightly over the past two months.

Current Economic Conditions

The poll, conducted June 6-8, finds that 35% of Americans rate the current economy as "excellent" or "good," while 20% rate it as "poor." These results show a slight drop since late May, at which time Gallup (and other polls) found an increase in consumer optimism about the economy. This suggests that last month's uptick in economic ratings was not the beginning of a sustained surge. Still, the current ratings are higher now than they were in mid-April and early May.

Ratings of the nation's economy were much more positive at the beginning of the year. In January and early February, Gallup found a net positive score (the percentage describing the economy as excellent or good minus the percentage describing it as poor) of 24 points. By mid-March, perceptions about the economy began to sour, with the net score dropping to 8 points. These ratings reached their low point for the year, so far, in early May, with a score of 6 points, before rebounding to a score of 21 points a few weeks ago. Now, as noted, the ratings have fallen back.

Economic Outlook

About a third of Americans (35%) in the latest poll say economic conditions in the country are getting better, while the majority of adults nationwide, 55%, say they are getting worse. These results are essentially the same as what Gallup found at the beginning of April, before optimism on this measure declined in mid-April and early May. But these ratings -- like the numbers reviewed above -- are lower than what Gallup found at the end of May.

Americans' assessments of the direction of the nation's economy were much more optimistic earlier in the year. In January, Americans were more positive than negative about the direction of the economy, with 48% saying economic conditions were getting better and 42% saying they were getting worse. By mid-February, the reverse was true, with 48% saying conditions were getting worse and 43% saying they were getting better. Perceptions of the economic outlook became more pessimistic over the next several months, before they rebounded somewhat by the end of May, with 41% saying conditions were getting better and 52% saying getting worse in Gallup's May 23-26 survey.

A Good Time to Find a Quality Job?

Americans have also grown somewhat more negative about the job situation in the country. The latest poll finds that 35% of Americans say now is a good time to find a quality job, while more than 6 in 10 Americans (62%) say it is a bad time. Over the past two months, just under 4 in 10 Americans have said it was a good time to find a quality job.

At the beginning of the year, a January Gallup poll found roughly the same results as measured today -- 33% said it was a good time to find a quality job and 62% said it was a bad time. In February and early March, Americans became more optimistic about jobs in the country, with nearly 4 in 10 saying it was a good time. The public's sentiment about the job situation dipped slightly in late March, but bounced back to the 40% range in April and May.

Rating the Economy as the Most Important Problem

Every month, Gallup asks Americans, without prompting, to name the "most important problem facing this country today." The latest results show that 30% of Americans mention some aspect of the economy, including the general state of the economy (12%), unemployment or jobs (9%), fuel or oil prices (4%), or the federal budget deficit (3%), as the top problem.

The percentage of Americans mentioning some aspect of the economy as the top problem has varied only slightly over the course of the year. In January, 31% of Americans mentioned the economy. This sentiment dipped slightly to 28% by March, before increasing to 34% in April. In May, 33% named the economy. The current results show a modest decline in economic mentions, to 30%.

What else, other than the economy, do Americans mention as the nation's top problem? Twenty-two percent say the situation in Iraq, 9% healthcare, 8% terrorism, 8% issues concerning the government or politicians, 6% Social Security, and 6% ethics and moral issues.

Survey Methods

Results in the current survey are based on telephone interviews with 1,002 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 6-8, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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