Economic predictions: personal future seems brightest

Ben Fischman

Economic Predictions: Personal Future Seems Brightest

Think you’re one of those select souls on whom fortune will smile in the hard times ahead? Join the crowd. The majority of Americans (54%) are looking forward to better financial health a year from now–but paradoxically, only 25% think the nation will be better off as well. This kind of disparity between personal optimism and national pessimism surfaces often in polls going back to the 1970s.

“The numbers differ because people judge the nation long-distance,” says Andrew Kohut, president of Opinion Research at the Gallup Organization, which conducted the surveys. “They’re familiar with their own economic worries, and think they can see through to the solutions. But they don’t see a hands-on solution for the country. Today, for example, people don’t know how large the deficit is, or how the country will deal with it.”

Attitudes today aren’t too different from those during the middle of the Reagan era, according to Kohut. Five years ago, 54% also anticipated better personal financial health, while 35%–slightly more than today–felt the same way about the nation as a whole. Ten years ago, as the Carter years waned, only 39% felt this personal optimism. But the trend remained, as optimism for the nation plunged in turn to 9%.

While the optimism gap has been a fairly consistent phenomenon for 15 years, says Kohut, it reversed itself at least once. In 1982, for example, optimism for the nation rose to 50%, well above the personal optimism figure of 37%. “America was in a recession then,” explains Kohut, “but there was a strong sense that things had to get better for the country.”

Young people are most optimistic about their personal fiscal future, according to the 1989 survey, sponsored by Times Mirror; this has usually been the case in past surveys as well, says Kohut. A full 74% of those under 30 years old think they will be better off in a year. That’s nearly three times the percentage of those who say that in the over-50 crowd.

Business leaders and government officials are less sanguine than the general public about the country’s near future. Only 17% feel that the United States will be better off in a year.

The survey also tries to gauge the nation’s mood. A minority of citizens–45%–is content with how things are going in America right now, 50% are dissatisfied, and 5% have no opinion. That’s a slight drop in the national spirit from five years ago, when half the country was satisfied, 46% were dissatisfied, and 4% had no opinion. But our outlook has been much bleaker. Ten years ago, before Reagan was first elected, only 26% felt satisfied with the state of the union. Back then, 69% were dissatisfied, and 5% had no opinion.

COPYRIGHT 1989 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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