As rich grow more optimistic, lawmakers lose economic urgency

“I’m disappointed that there isn’t more of an effort being made” on the economy, said John Engler, the Republican former governor of Michigan who is now president of the Business Roundtable. “I don’t know if people have concluded that there’s been a reset — we’ve accepted these higher levels [of unemployment] and that’s a new normal. I hope not.”

One key Washington constituency is feeling a new normal: stock market highs.

Fifty-two percent of white Americans earning $50,000 a year or more are optimistic about the national economy, a 13-percentage-point increase from December, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Thanks largely to that shift and to persistent optimism among higher- income nonwhites, economic optimism among all Americans is at its highest level since early 2009.

The change tracks the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, which has risen 20 percent in the past six months. Higher-income Democrats and, perhaps most notably, Republicans are all feeling the effects. Obama’s approval rating for handling the economy among higher-income Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, while dismal, has more than doubled over the past six months.