NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unemployment Falls, But Americans Are Still Unhappy

November 13, 2014

The major gains by Republicans in the House and the Senate last week indicate that Americans are unhappy with the state of economy. This was confirmed by exit polls, which found one-third of voters believed the economy had stayed the same, and 31 percent reported that it was getting worse. Just 35 percent believed it was getting better.

These numbers come despite official employment statistics that show unemployment at its lowest level (5.8 percent) since mid-2008. If things are improving, why do so few voters believe it? David Wessel, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that there tends to be lag time between actual improvements and people's perceptions, but he provides a few more reasons for the continued discontent:

  • Millions of Americans are no longer looking for work or are working part time. The most recent jobs report included 7 million Americans in part-time work because they could not find full-time employment. That figure is 2 million above pre-recession levels. Just one in six working-age men were unemployed last month.
  • Raises are rare and earnings are barely beating inflation.
  • The focus has shifted from concern about a crisis to chronic economic problems of wage stagnation and dwindling economic prospects. According to exit polls, half of American voters believe that the next generation will be worse off than the current generation.

Source: David Wessel, "Yes, the Jobless Rate Fell. Here's Why Americans Are Still Gloomy," Brookings Institution, November 7, 2014.


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