Americans’ Gloomy Economic Outlook Persists

Americans continue to have a bleak outlook about the economy. More than seven in ten (72%)

Americans believe that the country is still in a recession, while roughly one-quarter (27%) believe

the economic recession is over. Americans’ views about the economic recession have remained

steady over the last few years, with an identical percentage (72%) of Americans saying the country

was still in a recession in 2014, and 76% saying the country was still in a recession in 2012.

Americans have become more pessimistic about the country’s future than they were just a few

years earlier. Today, Americans are evenly divided over whether America’s best days are ahead of

us (49%) or behind us (49%). In 2012, a majority (54%) of the public said that America’s best days

were ahead, while fewer than four in ten (38%) said that they were behind. No group expresses

greater pessimism about America’s future than members of the Tea Party. Only one-third (33%) of

Tea Party members say that the country’s best days lie ahead, while about two-thirds (65%) say

they are in the past.

Perceptions about America’s future vary by religious affiliation. Among religious groups, white

evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are markedly more pessimistic than other

groups, with majorities believing that America’s best days are behind us (60% and 55%, respectively).

By contrast, majorities of Americans who are affiliated with non-Christian religions (55%),

Catholics (56%), black Protestants (57%), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (58%) all believe

America’s best days are ahead of us.

Americans’ increasing pessimism about the direction of the country is reflected in their views

about prevalent problems within their local communities. The number of Americans citing crime,

racial tensions, and illegal immigration as major problems increased substantially between 2012

and 2015.

• The number of Americans saying crime is a major problem in their community jumped 15

percentage points (up from 33% to 48%), while the number of Americans saying racial tensions

are a major concern jumped 18 percentage points (from 17% to 35%).

• The number of Americans saying illegal immigration is a major problem ticked up 8 percentage

points (from 28% to 36%).

In order to provide an overall measure of Americans’ attitudes about the fairness of the economic

system in the U.S., we created an Economic Inequity Index (EII). Americans are skewed toward

the top end of the scale. Nearly half (48%) of Americans perceive a great amount of inequity in

the economic system, scoring very high on the EII. About one in five (21%) see a high amount

of economic inequity, 20% see a moderate amount of economic inequity, and 11% perceive the

economic playing field to be basically level, scoring low on the EII.

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