WASHINGTON (AP) – The US view of the national economy has improved somewhat from the lows of the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, but a new poll suggests Democrats and Republicans are living in alternative economic realities amid the sharpest recession in the history of the country.
Eighty-five percent of Democrats call economic conditions “poor,” while 65% of Republicans describe them as “good” in a new survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
This divide reflects the deep polarization ahead of the 2020 presidential election, as well as a range of indicators pointing to a weakened but recovering US economy.
“The economy is in terrible shape and is improving rapidly,” said Jason Furman, a professor at Harvard University, formerly the top economist in the White House of Obama. “Depending on which of the two halves you are looking at, you will get a very different interpretation of where we are.”
Americans can see reasons for hope as well as doubt. They face many uncertainties about the path of COVID-19, the fate of small businesses with fewer customers, and the status of additional government support.
Overall, 63% of the country says the economy is in a bad way, slightly less than the 70% who felt that in May. The change was driven by increasingly optimistic Republicans, of whom only 43% described the economy as good a month ago. Two-thirds of republicans, but only 29% of Democrats, expect improvement in the coming year.
Thelma Ross, 78, from Granby, Missouri, believes the economy will recover if President Donald Trump can defeat Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the former vice president.
“I think it will come back stronger than ever if we bring in the right president,” said Ross. “President Trump is a businessman.”
Still, she is concerned about the protests after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an African American, and the calls to remove images celebrating the Confederacy and Christopher Columbus. Ross considers division to be detrimental to any economic recovery.
Ross said of Trump, “I pray for divine revelation and divine guidance for that man because he needs it now.”
The survey found that African-Americans and Latin-Americans are more likely than white Americans to say that someone in their household has lost a job or other income. That inequality contributed to the broader settlement of structural racism amid nationwide protests over police brutality after Floyd’s death.
Overall, 66% of Hispanics and 53% of Black Americans say they have experienced some form of income loss, including layoffs, unpaid free time, and austerity or wages. Forty-two percent of white Americans say the same. Thirty-four percent of Hispanics, 29% of African Americans, and 20% of White Americans said someone in their household was fired.
The poll finds signs that some of those layoffs are becoming permanent. Of all the people who have experienced a layoff in their household, 55% say the job is certain or likely to return – and 8% say it has already happened. Still, 36% said the job is most likely not coming back, which is significantly higher than the 20% who said in April.
The economy grew in March and April as people took refuge in hopes of stopping the pandemic, and the unemployment rate rose to at least 14.7%. Responses to government surveys revealed that the actual unemployment rate may have been even higher. But it showed signs of resurgence in May. Retail sales were up 17.7% and 2.5 million jobs were added. The unemployment rate improved to 13.3%, a figure that remains the second highest measure in records dating back to 1948.
Leah Avery, 54, lost her job on a school bus in the suburbs of Dallas. She said she checks her email daily to find out how schools will reopen. She applied for unemployment benefits a month ago, but the request is being assessed.
“It’s been a struggle for us to pay our bills every day, and I know others are going through the same thing,” she said.
The job loss has only increased her stress. Her aunt died of COVID-19 and she has to take care of her elderly mother and her husband, who has dialysis appointments three days a week. It’s a full-time job with no salary, she said.
“I just have times when I have to cry,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen from the next day.”
The nearly $ 3 trillion in approved federal aid has protected many people from the pain of the recession. About two-thirds of Americans still say their personal financial situation is good.
A bipartisan group of economists proposed an additional $ 1 trillion to $ 2 trillion in support to support the recovery, including targeted funds for state and local governments, subsidized small business loans, more generous unemployment benefits, and support for low-paid workers.
“It should be seen as an investment in the economy,” said Melissa Kearney, an economics professor from the University of Maryland who led the charge. The proposals are based on ideas that have been shown to stimulate growth and provide traction for a recovery that is still in its early stages and at a fragile stage.
20-year-old Broxton Sanders sells mattresses while dropping out of the University of South Alabama. He is an emerging junior major in political science and would like to oversee a hospital for military veterans for a day. He noted that mattress sales increased over Memorial Day weekend, but there are now days with few, if any, shoppers.
“The economy can certainly improve,” says Sanders. “I’ll be honest, I think we’ve seen the worst. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t fall off at any point.”
The AP-NORC survey of 1,310 adults was conducted from June 11-15, using a sample from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling errors for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/.
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