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Poll: Outlook for Economy Bad but Improving

The American public's outlook on the economy continues to inch up, according to a new CBS News/ New York Times poll, even though their overall assessment of it remains grim.

Americans continue to volunteer the economy and jobs as the nation's top problem, far outdistancing their second most pressing issue – health care.

As many as 47 percent of Americans say the economy and jobs are the country's most important problem, and 77 percent say the economy is in bad shape. By contrast, only 12 percent say health care is the nation's most serious problem.

Just 29 percent of Americans think the economy is getting better, while 23 percent think it is getting worse. Most people – 47 percent – say the economy is staying the same.

Even though the public's outlook for the economy isn't especially hopeful, it is significantly more optimistic than earlier this year. In February, just 5 percent of Americans thought the economy was improving.

The struggling economy has an impact on how Americans view the overall direction of the country. This month, 37 percent of Americans say the nation is headed in the right direction – down slightly from September. Fifty-six percent think the country is on the wrong track.

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This negative assessment pales in comparison to last year: In December of 2008, the percentage of Americans who said the country was on the wrong track was 27 points higher.

While Congress may not take up another jobs bill until January, the Senate is working overtime to try and pass a health care bill by the end of the year.

Public opinion on the issue of health care reform has remained steady: Americans still support a public option (which is likely to be dropped in the Senate), but few still believe the reforms under debate would actually help them personally.

About six in 10 Americans continue to express support for the "public option" – the choice of a government-run insurance plan. As was the case last month, Democrats favor it and Republicans are opposed.

Even as support for the public option remains strong, the public remains skeptical of the overall reform package before Congress. Only 16 percent of Americans think they'll personally be helped by the reforms, while 34 percent think they'll be hurt. Four in 10 foresee no impact.

More from the CBS News/ New York Times poll:

Obama Approval Rating Falls to 50 Percent

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This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,031 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone December 4-8, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial 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.

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