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

Stress also relates to confidence in retirement savings. Among people who are confident in their savings, just 22 percent report stress. If not confident, that soars by 50 points, to 72 percent. And "serious" stress peaks at 50 percent of people who are not at all confident they'll have enough income and assets to last through their retirement.

OPTIMISM/PESSIMISM – Through these negatives, a dogged optimism does show through. Despite their concerns about the future, 66 percent of Americans say they remain optimistic overall about their family's financial situation in the year ahead; 48 percent say they're optimistic about the national economy overall.

Layoffs and Job Cuts

But these are well down from their recent peaks in late 2006, when 82 percent were optimistic about their personal finances, 64 percent about the national economy.

Personal optimism is at risk, moreover, since to some extent it hinges on feelings of financial security. Among people who feel financially secure, 78 percent are optimistic; among the insecure that drops to 50 percent; among the "very" insecure, 42 percent.

Optimism about the national economy, for its part, is subject to a different variable, political affiliation. With Obama now in the White House, 63 percent of Democrats are optimistic about the national economy's prospects. Far fewer independents (43 percent) and about half as many Republicans (33 percent) agree.

LAYOFFS – Another result underscores those who are most personally vulnerable to the economy's contraction. Two groups are most likely to have experienced a job loss in their household: young adults and lower-income Americans.

Specifically, among adults under age 30, 29 percent report a layoff; among those 40 and older, by contrast, far fewer report the loss of a job in the household, 12 percent.

Likewise, among those with more than $100,000 incomes, 8 percent report a layoff in their household. Among those with less than $35,000 in household incomes, it's 26 percent. Those hit hardest, it seems, include those who can least afford it.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Feb. 19-22, 2009, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults including both landline and cell phone-only respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3-point error margin; click here for a detailed description of sampling error. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.

Click here for PDF with charts and questionnaire.

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