Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

February 17, 2012 12:00 PM

State of the Nation

59% say the country is on the wrong track, with 35% saying it is on the right track. This is a change from a month ago, when 66% said the country was on the wrong track and only 29% said it was on the right track. It is also the lowest “wrong track” number recorded in the last year. [CBS/NYT 2/12]

This change is mirrored in the most recent CNN/ORC survey, in which 60% said that things are going badly in the country, down from the 70% recorded two months earlier. 40% say things are going at least fairly well, up from the 30%, recorded two months earlier. [2/12]

In February, 22% of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is up from the 11% satisfaction rate recorded in September. 37% of Democrats are satisfied, but only 10% of Republicans and 19% of Independents agree. [Gallup]

All signs show that the economy is improving. When those signs will be recognized by the average American remains to be seen.

37% of Americans think the economy will get better over the next 12 months. This is the most positive number found by the NBC/WSJ since January 2011, when 40% had that view. Conversely, the number who are pessimistic about the future has also dropped to the year-ago level of 17%. [1/12]

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 8.3% in the month of January. This represents a continuing drop on this most vivid of numbers.

Gallup came up with a slightly higher number of 8.6% for the same period, a slight increase from the previous month. It also reported an increase to 10.1% (from 9.8%) in the number of people who are working part-time, but want full- time employment. Thus, a total of 18.7% are considered to be unemployed.

Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Florida, and California had the highest underemployment rates in 2011, at least 21%. Two States, North and South Dakota, had underemployment rates of 12%, the lowest in the country.

[Note: this still undercounts the real unemployment rate because neither test includes those who have stopped looking for work. ]

* Confidence in the U.S. economy has gone up for five months through January. It is now a minus 27, up from a minus 52.

* 36% think the economy is getting better, up from a low of 18% in the summer of 2011. The high point in the last four years was in January 2011, when it hit 41%.

* 83% are dissatisfied with the state of the nation’s economy, and 69% are dissatisfied with the size and power of the Federal government.

* 49% see themselves as worse off today than they were a year ago.

* 49% say the U.S. economic system is unfair, but 62% say that the system is fair to them.

* 36% worry about losing their job in the next year. 51% worry about maintaining their standard of living, while 43% fear they will not be able to pay medical bills. [Gallup]

On February 15th, Gallup published the results of a survey of small business owners. The headline said, “Health Costs, Gov’t Regulations Curb Small Business Hiring.” And then there was a sub-headline that read, “Nearly half of small- business owners name those issues.” All of the above is accurate based on the report of the survey.

It is not until you get into the report that you discover that yes, 48% are worried about the potential cost of healthcare and 46% are worried about government regulations, but those issues rank 5th and 6th in the list of concerns expressed by small business owners.

76% Don’t need any additional employees at this time

71% Worried revenues or sales won’t justify adding employees

66% Worry about the current status of the U.S. economy

53% Worry about cash flow or ability to make payroll

Then come concerns about healthcare and government regulations.

66% of adults believe there are “strong or very strong” conflicts between rich and poor, an increase of nearly 20% in the last two years. Across the political spectrum this view is held by 55% of Republicans, 68% of Independent, and 73% of Democrats.

43% believe that rich people attained that status mainly because of “hard work, ambition or education.” 46% think that wealthy people became rich primarily because of “knowing the right people or being born into wealthy families.” [PEW]

In various forms, the poor in America have been a topic of conversation in this election season. Notably, about 25% of Republicans and Republican-leaning registered voters have annual family incomes of less than $30,000. 57% of that population think that the government does too little for poor people. 21% think the government does about the right amount. [PEW 2/12]

53% of Americans think the government taxes too much to help people who “could get by without help.”

41% think the “government is providing benefits for too many people who don’t actually need them.”

54% believe that “high unemployment has left more people in need of government assistance.”

38% do not believe that the safety net is sufficient for those who need help “just to get by.” [UT/NJ Connection Poll 2/12]

32,000,000 Americans live alone today, up from 27,200,000 in 2000 and 31,000,000 in 2010. 5,000,000 people between the ages of 18-34 and 15,000,000 of those aged 35-64 live alone. Following are the percentage of households with only one occupant in various countries:

47% of all households in Sweden
27% of all households in the United States
7% of all households in China
3% of all households in India

[NYT 2/5/12]

There are two things on which 80% of Democrats and 89% of Republicans appear to agree – giving tax breaks to U.S. corporations that bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas.

77% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans also agree that the U.S. should do more to pressure China to allow fairer trade with this country. But that is where agreement seems to end.

* 84% of Democrats, but only 46% of Republicans, think the Federal government should spend more to support development of alternative energy sources.

* A majority of Republicans -- 54% -- think the Federal government should spend more on education and job training for the long term unemployed. 93% of Democrats hold this view.

* And while 81% of Democrats would increase taxes on upper-income Americans, only 41% of Republicans hold this view. [Gallup]

The issue that most divides Democrats and Republicans is the importance of environmental protection. 27% of Republicans say it should be a top priority. Just over twice that number, 58%, of Democrats say it should be a top priority. [PEW]

Over the last 15 years, opposition to gay marriage has fallen substantially. Those who support and oppose are now even in number. 45% support these unions, while 46% oppose them. In 1996, 65% opposed, while only 27% supported gay marriage. [Pew 2011]

Beginning during the second term of President George W. Bush, and continuing through the first three years of the Obama Administration, the public has been dissatisfied with the position of the United States in the world today. [Gallup 2/12]

64% are dissatisfied with the level of immigration into the country. Of those with that point of view, 6% would like to see immigration increased, while 42% want it decreased. [Gallup]

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