Recession? Depression? One in Three Thinks So

Photograph by Brandon/Schulman/Gallery Stock

A third of Americans think the U.S. economy is in a recession or a depression and only one in six think it’s growing, says a new survey that also finds “deep-seated pessimism about the medium term.”

Americans are highly critical of policymakers, unwilling to take risks with their savings, planning to reduce their indebtedness over the next year, suspicious of the stock market, and more worried about inflation than unemployment, according to the survey released today.

It was sponsored by Absolute Strategy Research, a London firm that does macroeconomic research for institutional clients such as banks. The firm has done surveys with a panel of online respondents each six months since 2009.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has declared that the U.S. pulled out of recession more than four years ago—in June 2009—but a lot of people apparently didn’t get the memo.

The survey found that 85 percent of the 1,000-plus adults worry to some degree about their financial situation, compared with 90 percent three years ago. People who say they’re worse off than they were a year ago outnumber those who say they’re better off, 28 percent to 22 percent.

Inflation has been well below historical averages and unemployment well above it for the past several years. Nonetheless, “a rise in the cost of living” was respondents’ top worry, cited by 26 percent of respondents, vs. 12 percent citing unemployment, 11 percent a drop in income, and 8 percent taxes.

Who’s to blame? The survey asked people about how well unspecified “policymakers” had managed the economy over the past year. Four percent said they’d done a very good job and 11 percent credited them with a fairly good job. In contrast, 27 percent said they’d done a “fairly poor” job and 49 percent—just under half—said policymakers had done a “very bad job.”

One of the few bits of optimism was on housing. Forty percent of respondents expected housing prices to rise over the next year, vs. only 17 percent who said so a year ago.

As a cross-section of America, the respondents were far from wealthy on average—only 52 percent said they had personal income of more than $40,000, and only 31 percent said they had more than $40,000 in personal wealth.