A Hard Reality of Job and Pay Cuts Fuels the Public's Economic Anxiety

The drop in financial security has been most pronounced in a few, telling groups. This poll finds an 18-point drop since last fall in financial security among Americans ages 50 to 64 – those contemplating retirement, and likely shaking their heads at their year-end 401(k) statements. In September, 67 percent in this age group felt financially secure; today, it's 49 percent.

There's been a similar, 17-point drop in security among higher-income Americans, those with household incomes over $100,000 a year; they're by far most likely to be exposed to the stock market, now down 50 percent from its peak in October 2007. Sixty-eight percent in this group still feel secure – but that's down from 85 percent five months ago. And these are the country's top wage-earners.

There's likewise been a 17-point drop in financial security among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, who, as reported earlier this week, are far less confident than Democrats in Obama's economic stimulus plan.

Financial security also has fallen at least twice as fast in the South and West (down by 13 and 12 points, respectively) than in the East and Midwest. The South and West have seen particularly steep declines in home values and sharp increases in foreclosures.

LENGTH AND DEPTH – Expectations are for a long and bumpy ride. Seventy percent expect the recession to last for more than a year; that compares with just 27 percent who said the same as the far shallower recession of 2001 wound down. Indeed, among the seven in 10 who see a long recession, half think it could go on for more than two years.

Economic Stress but Optimism Lingers


Separately, 56 percent think the country is not in a normal, cyclical economic downturn, but something far more unsettling – a "serious long-term decline." That's a level of gloom not seen since the last deep recession 17 years ago.

In another gauge, the ongoing ABC News Consumer Comfort Index is in the midst of its worst stretch in 23 years of weekly polls: A mere 5 percent say the national economy's in good shape, just 24 percent call it a good time to spend money – and more than half of Americans have rated their own finances negatively for 31 weeks straight.

STRESS – Stress soars with economic insecurity. Even among Americans who feel secure financially, 40 percent say the situation is causing stress in their lives. But among those who feel insecure, stress skyrockets to 79 percent; if "very" insecure, 89 percent.

Indeed "serious" stress is reported by 44 percent of financially insecure Americans, and by even more, 65 percent, of those who feel very insecure.

There are other factors in stress as well. Among people who are concerned about making their mortgage or rent, stress soars to 79 percent, serious stress to 45 percent – vastly higher than it is among those unburdened with worries about the cost of housing. (In that group 37 percent report stress and 11 percent say it's serious.)

Stress also peaks in the middle age groups, people age 30 to 64, who tend to have more financial commitments, mortgages among them. In this group 64 percent report stress from the economy, far higher than the level of economic stress among people under 30 (48 percent stressed by the economy) or 65 and older (41 percent stressed).

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