Coming off re-election, Obama appears to believe slight improvements in the economy will mean an improving public mood. The president, who famously focused on national health care more than jobs during his first term, seems poised to again focus on issues other than the economy in his second. In a 2,100-word inaugural address, Obama devoted only five — “An economic recovery has begun” — to even obliquely addressing the concerns of the jobless.
It was a gesture almost astonishingly out of touch with the situation outlined in the Rutgers report. People are deeply pessimistic about the future. A significant number believe the economy will never return to its prerecession health. People who have lost a job and found another are working for less pay. Their savings are diminished, or gone altogether. They don’t think college is within reach for their children.
The Rutgers team conducted a similar survey in early 2010, which found fresh economic wounds and deeply negative feelings about the economy. Going into the new study, after years of positive, if tepid, job creation, the researchers thought they would find things had changed. “Our hypothesis was that people would have a more positive attitude,” says Van Horn. “They didn’t. It was either the same, or worse.”
And it might get worse still.