Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

September 3, 2011 12:00 PM

State of the Nation

An ever increasing number of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track. In mid-August, 75% said the country was on the wrong track, while 21% thought it was going in the right direction. [AP/Gfk 8/11]

Only 11% are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. Other than in late October 2008, when 7% had this view, the current rating is the lowest recorded. The high point was late 1999, when 71% were satisfied. [Gallup]

78% are dissatisfied with the way the country’s political system is working, and 71% think the government is mainly focused on the wrong things. Responsibility for the government being focused on the wrong things is directed evenly to Obama/Democrats and Republicans.

And, to make matters worse, 73% have little or no confidence that, when the government in Washington decides to solve economic problems, the problem will actually be solved.

92% believe the current financial situation is a crisis or serious problem. [WP/ABC 8/11]

Over the last four months:

The University of Michigan Consumer Confidence Index has fallen 18.6 points, from 74.3 in March, to 63.7 in July, to 55.7 in August. This is the lowest level of consumer confidence seen since the spring of 1980. The Consumer Survey’s chief economist stated, “The recent surge in pessimism was due to lost confidence in the ability of the government to enact policies that would counteract the growing threat of a renewed recession....” He went on to note that the presumed effectiveness of government has been lost. [Survey of Consumers release 8/26/11]

  • the number of folks who think business conditions in the area in which they live will be worse grew from 30% to 38%; the number saying conditions will get better fell from 51% to 41%
  • the number who think the country’s economy has a ways to go before it hits bottom grew from 65% to 72% [Hart Research Quarterly Study for Citi]
But all is not doom and gloom among Americans. With all of the problems people see in the way the government is working, 77% still believe that the U.S. has the best system of government in the world. [WP/ABC 8/11]

78% of Americans say they are at least somewhat happy (30% very happy). 17% are unhappy (6% very unhappy). [AP-Gfk 8/11]

Again over the last four months:

  • the number of people who think they are worse off now than they were a year ago remains even at 32%
  • the number of people who are optimistic about their own financial situation over the next 12 months has only fallen from 63% to 60%
  • the number of people who are comfortable with their current level of savings is 46% down one point from April
  • the number of people who are comfortable with their level of debt remains steady at 61% [Hart Research Quarterly Study for Citi]
The bottom line – Americans are not feeling that uncomfortable about their personal circumstances, but they are worried about what will happen next. Based on what they see going on in Washington, on Wall Street, and in the business community, they have no confidence in the future. However, if given reasonable evidence that there is hope for the future, if they see that good things are starting to happen, they will respond in a positive way.

About Unemployment

Looking at the first six months of 2011, 30% say that they or someone in their family has lost a job because of economic conditions, but 60% know of someone personally, other than a family member, who has lost a job because of those conditions. [AP-Gfk]

Each month the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a series of numbers that represent the number of people who are unemployed. For July that number is 9.1% . And that is the number that most media outlets, print and electronic, choose to promulgate. So, that must mean that of the 153.2 million people in the workforce, 13.9 million are unemployed. [That number includes 15.9% of blacks, 11.3% of Hispanics, 8.1% of whites, 9% of adult men, 7.9% of adult women.]

But that is not quite the whole story. There are other groups of people that generally don’t make the cut of inclusion in news stories. One of those groups is the so called “marginally attached.” These are folks who are unemployed and have looked for a job sometime in the last 12 months, but not within the last 4 weeks. They represent 1.8% of the workforce or 2.8 million people. That brings the total unemployed to 16.8 or 10.9% of the workforce.

But there is still more to the story. There is also a group of people who don’t seem to be included in the BLS data. These are folks who want to work, but have not looked for work in the last 12 months. Estimates are that 4.5 million people fall into this category, another 3% of the potential workforce. That brings the total to 21.3 million or 13.9% of the workforce. And there are some who suggest that the number of people in this group is really at least 9 million people. That would bring the unemployed number to 25.8 million or 16.9% of the workforce.

Finally, there are those who are working part-time, but would like to be working full time. The BLS pegs this group at 8.4 million people or 5.5% of the workforce.

This brings the total number of people who are either unemployed or involuntarily working part-time to 29.4 million people or 19.4% of the potential workforce.

Gallup also surveys unemployment. In mid-August it found 9.0% unemployed and another 9.2% working part-time, but wanting full-time work, a total of 18.2% underemployed.

25% of Americans consider themselves to be supporters of the Tea Party movement, while 28% consider themselves to be an opponent of this group. This level of support is the lowest that Gallup has found since April 2010.

A declining number of Americans, 22%, think that the “members of Congress who support the Tea Party had a mostly positive effect. This is down from 27% who had this view in January. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who think they have had a mostly negative effect has grown from 18% in January to 29% in August. [Gallup 8/11, PEW 8/11]

Democrats and Republicans are negative about their respective Parties because of their Parties’ lack of support for traditional positions. In the case of the Republicans, 59% rate their Party as “only fair/poor” for not being strong enough on issues such as cutting “the size of government, cutting taxes, and promoting conservative social values.” 61% of Democrats give their party an “only fair/poor” rating for failing to protect “the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy, and representing working people.” [PEW 8/11]

The budget/deficit/debt ceiling debate of July/August did not sit well with the left or the right. A recent PEW study provided respondents with the opportunity to describe the episode. Their responses included a variety of descriptive words – ridiculous, disgusting, stupid, frustrating, terrible, disappointing, childish, and a joke.

69% believe it will be necessary for some taxes to be increased and 82% believe that some government services will have to be cut, in order for the Federal government to balance the budget. [AP-Gfk8/11]

The computer industry is rated most positively by Americans -- 72% have that view -- while at the bottom of the list is the Federal government, with a 17% positive rating and a 63% negative rating. These are the lowest positive and highest negative ratings that Gallup has encountered since it began measuring the Federal government in 2003.

Americans now use their cell phones more than their land lines. 37% use their cell phones “most of the time,” while 28% say that about their land lines. 35% use both equally. [AP-Gfk 8/11] As of February 2011, only 2% of American households have no phone service at all. [WP 2/11]

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