Report

Soaring Prices Stagger Public but Most See the Economy as Fixable

  • July 31, 2008

The public continues to be extremely downbeat about the national economy, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Just 10% say the economy is in good shape, while 72% say the economy is either in a recession (54%) or a depression (18%). On a personal level, concerns about rising prices have surged. Beyond widespread anxiety about energy costs, a growing number of Americans say it is difficult for them to afford food.

The percentage of Americans who cite rising prices as the nation's most important economic problem has nearly doubled since February - from 24% to 45%. Nearly two-thirds (64%) now say their incomes are not keeping up with the rising cost of living, which also is up substantially from February (58%). The number saying it is difficult to afford food has followed a similar upward path; 38% say that now, compared with 27% five months ago.

While rising costs are clearly the top economic problem in the public's view, it is far from their only concern. More than seven-in-ten (73%) say good jobs are difficult to find, compared with 55% a little more than a year ago (June 2007). The proportion saying that local real estate prices are declining has jumped since February, from 41% to 56%.

These multiple economic concerns are taking a toll on public optimism. About half of Americans (51%) expect their personal financial situation to improve over the next year, down from 55% in March and 60% in January. Yet despite the worsening economic perceptions, the public does not see the economy as beyond repair. Nor do they believe that the government is incapable of fixing the economy in an era of global economic interdependence.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) believe that "something can be done to deal with the problem of rising prices." This is virtually identical to the number who held this opinion in the fall 1980, when inflation was much greater than it is today. And while most Americans say that the global economy is having an impact on the way things are going in the U.S., only a minority (26%) expresses the view that the government is powerless to fix the economy as a consequence.

The survey, conducted July 23-27 among 1,503 adults, finds that nearly nine-in-ten voters (87%) say that when it comes to the economy, it matters who is elected president; 64% say it matters a great deal. In this regard, far more voters say that Barack Obama, rather than John McCain, can do a better job of improving economic conditions (47% to 32%).

Read the full report Inflation Staggers Public but Economy Still Seen As Fixable on the Pew Research Center Web site.