CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.
Most Americans believe the U.S. is still in an economic recession, but their optimism about the economic future is increasing, according to a new CBS News poll.
Americans have rated the U.S. economy poorly for three years, and it remains the most important issue facing the country, according to the poll, conducted Feb. 11 - 14.
Although the National Bureau of Economic Research stated that the most recent economic recession ended in June 2009, most Americans do not see it that way. Just 37 percent of Americans think the recession is nearly over and that the recovery has begun. As many as 57 percent do not think that's true.
Less than half of Americans express confidence about economic conditions in the country over the next few months, and 60 percent are at least somewhat uneasy about the near term economic future.
Nevertheless, two years ago confidence was lower; just 32 percent felt confident and 67 percent were uneasy.
More Americans are confident about their own finances; 60 percent are at least somewhat confident, a significant increase from 47 percent two years ago.
Three in four Americans continue to view the condition of the national economy as at least somewhat bad - about the same as last month - while over six in 10 say the same about their local job market.
Nearly a third of all Americans think the national economy is getting better, while 22 percent think it is getting worse and 45 percent think it is staying the same. The percentage that sees it improving is the highest it has been since last April. When looking at their local job market, more than half - 56 percent - don't see any change, though more think it is getting better (28 percent) than getting worse (12 percent).
Overall, nearly six in 10 Americans are at least somewhat concerned that they or someone else in their household will be out of work and looking for a job within the next 12 months, including a third who are very concerned. Concern is down slightly from last month, and now is around the level it was a year ago.
The economy and jobs remains the most important problem facing the country today, far ahead of any other problem volunteered by Americans nationwide. Forty-eight percent of Americans mention the economy and jobs, followed by the budget deficit (7 percent) and health care (6 percent). Still, the percentage that chooses the economy and jobs has been dropping since it reached an all-time high of 60 percent last September.
With the price of gasoline higher than it has been at any time over the past two years, 59 percent of Americans say that higher gas prices personally affect them a lot, while just 17 percent say higher gas prices don't affect them much or at all.
Most Americans, 52 percent, say that recent gas price increases have caused financial hardship for their household, including 29 percent who say this financial hardship is serious. Even more Americans reported financial hardship when gas prices hit an all-time high in July 2008.
Not surprisingly, lower-income Americans are feeling the effects of higher gas prices far more than those with higher incomes. Nearly half of Americans making $30,000 a year or less say higher gas prices are causing serious financial hardship in their household, compared to just 13 percent of Americans making over $100,000 a year.
Looking at the country as a whole, most Americans continue to say the country is off on the wrong track (58 percent), but 36 percent say it is heading in the right direction - the highest number in about a year.More from the poll:
This poll was conducted by telephone on February 11-14, 2011 among 1031 adults nationwide. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line 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. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.