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CBS Poll: New Lows On The Economy

Opinions about the economy have gone from bad to worse, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds.

Ninety-two percent of American now say the economy is in bad shape -- the highest number in the history of the CBS News Poll.

Only seven percent say the economy is good, a historic low.

Just one year ago, 38 percent of Americans thought the economy was in good shape, and in January 2001, as President Bush took office, 84 percent said the economy was good.

The public's outlook for the future is also glum, but less negative than it was throughout 2008. Fifty-four percent think the economy is getting worse - while negative, it's the lowest percentage saying this in over a year.

Still, most expect the economic pain to be prolonged. Just five percent think the current recession will last only six months, and another 25 percent think it will last a year. Sixty-eight percent think it will take two years or more before this recession is over.

Americans support a large scale government stimulus program, according to the poll, although there is no consensus on what its size should be.

Sixty-three percent of Americans approve of the federal government passing a $775 billion stimulus package, the estimated amount when the poll was conducted, in order to improve the economy with just 24 percent saying they disapprove.

Majorities of Democrats and independents approve of a stimulus package of this size. And while support among Republicans is lower, still half approve.

In addition, 69 percent agree with the incoming Obama administration that a large stimulus package is needed to keep the economy from getting worse.

But the $775 billion figure is too little for some, and too much for others. Twenty-right percent think it is about what is needed, 23 percent think it goes too far, and 28 percent think it does not go far enough. About one in five Americans don't have an opinion on this question.

Republicans are more likely to think the proposed package's amount goes too far. Among Democrats, 34 percent think it does not go far enough, and another 34 percent think it is about what is needed.

Just over four in ten Americans are concerned that Congress will not move quickly enough to help the economy. About the same percentage, however, think Congress will move at about the right pace.

Helping Homeowner

With foreclosure rates in some communities have reached record levels, and 51 percent of Americans approve of having the government provide financial help to those homeowners having trouble repaying mortgages whose rates have gone up.

But support for this measure is down from 60 percent last month.

Those who rent their home, or who have a mortgage themselves, are most likely to support government assistance for troubled mortgages, while those whose own homes without a mortgage are least likely to do so.

The highest income Americans ($75,000 or more a year) are also less likely to support this measure (41 percent approve of it, 52 percent disapprove). Only 33 percent of Republicans approve, while 60 percent of Democrats do.

Auto Industry Bailout

As for the recent auto industry bailout, the public thinks help for those companies should end with more than $13 billion in loans given to the big three U.S. auto makers last month, according to the poll.

Seventy-one percent say the government should not provide any more to those companies if they request it. Just 20 percent think the government should do so.

Jan 17:
Optimism About OBama (.pdf)
Pessimism On Economy (.pdf)
Jan 16:
The Complete Final Bush Poll (.pdf)
Expectations Of Obama (.pdf)
Even a threat of large job losses does not move Americans to support the government providing more funds to the U.S. automakers.

Unemployment And Personal Finances

With the nation's unemployment rate rising to 7.2 percent in December - the highest number in sixteen years - unemployment and job security is the leading financial concern among Americans today.

Twenty-one percent of Americans volunteer unemployment and job security as their biggest financial concern, ahead of paying everyday bills (12 percent) and health care and medical expenses (10 percent).

Six in 10 Americans are at least somewhat concerned that they or someone in their household will be out of work and looking for a job sometime within the next twelve months.

Of those Americans who are currently employed, slightly more than a third says they have felt less secure and confident in their jobs over the past couple of years. Few working Americans feel more secure.

Paying for everyday bills and expenses is the second biggest concern of Americans, and 17 percent say they are not making enough to pay their bills. About half continue to say they make just enough to get by, while 29 percent say they make enough to save and buy extras.

Overall, though, most Americans are feeling modestly positive about their family's financial situation. Seventy-three percent say their financial situation is at least fairly good (though only 10 percent say it is very good) while 27 percent characterize it as fairly or very bad. These numbers have changed little in the past two years.

Americans are cautiously optimistic about their financial future, although some are holding off on making large purchases. Three in four Americans say they feel at least somewhat secure about the financial future of their household, though only 15 percent say they feel very secure - that's down eight points from last month.

Although Americans with higher incomes tend to feel more secure than those who make less, a majority of all Americans are at least somewhat secure about their financial future.

The economic climate hasn't changed the financial plans of most Americans, but a third says they have changed their long-term plans or postponed a major purchase due to the recession.

And nearly two-thirds say making regular payments on a major purchase would prove a hardship, but that is the same percentage that said that in a CBS News Poll conducted in 1978.

Americans continue to view investing in the stock market as a risky endeavor. Nearly four in five Americans think investing in the stock market is risky - similar to last month. Two years ago, the percentage that thought investing in the stock market was risky was lower.

One reason for the change is that many Americans have seen their investments in the market dwindle lately. Six in ten Americans have investments in the stock market (including IRA's and 401-K plans), and most of them say their investments have lost a significant amount of money over the past twelve months. Just 15 percent of Americans say they have made money with their investments over the past twelve months.

Home foreclosures soared in 2008, but the percentage of Americans who are concerned about their housing costs has declined from nine months ago. Now 24 percent say they are very concerned about being able to pay their housing costs, down from 31 percent in March.

Much of the focus on the housing crisis has been on homeowners paying off their mortgages, but it is renters - who tend to have lower incomes - who are more likely to be concerned about housing costs than mortgage-holders.

While home values continue to drop nationally, most current homeowners say they aren't significantly affected by falling home prices. Six in ten homeowners say they haven't been affected much. Only 17 percent say they have been affected a lot - down seven points from September.

But more people know about the threat of foreclosures from people they know. The percentage of Americans who know someone who has either filed for bankruptcy or has had a foreclosure - 27 percent - has risen five points since March. Seventy-three percent say they do not know anyone personally who has experienced either.

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,112 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone January 11-15, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
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