Relief seems distant. Boosted by hopes for the Obama administration's recovery efforts, expectations for the economy's future have grown less grim: While 36 percent say it's getting worse, that's down from a 28-year record of 82 percent in October. And while just 27 percent say the economy's in fact improving, that's a four-year high.
At the same time, ratings of current economic conditions remain dismal. Ninety-three percent of Americans rate the economy negatively, more than 90 percent for a record 21 weeks. Seventy-six percent call it a bad time to spend money, 6 points from the record. And 54 percent say their personal finances are in bad shape -- half or more for 36 weeks straight, the longest such stretch since 1993.
Previous ABC/Post polling has underscored some of the strongest factors in economic anxiety -- having someone in the household experience a layoff or pay cut is a powerful predictor, as is having a close friend or family member who's gotten the chop. But even a good income doesn't provide full protection: While 67 percent of people in under-$50,000 households have cut their spending (40 percent sharply), so have 59 percent in better-off households (albeit fewer have done so sharply, 21 percent).
The voices of survey respondents reflect these realities. More voices follow -- a virtual catalog of cutbacks that define some of the effects of economic contraction.
"I am not going out to eat. The kids are not getting rewards. We are not going to take our family trip to the movies once a week."
"I cut back on buying my wife presents."
"I am taking lunch instead of buying it."
"We are cutting back on shopping for clothing and just wearing what we have."
"We have cut out trips. We are cutting back on clothes and groceries. We are looking for sales."
"We are spending less money on entertainment. I put the student loans in forbearance."
"I have cut back traveling. We are watching our utilities. We try to avoid buying brand foods. ... We make sure our medicines are generics."
"I keep the thermostat set at 65. I turn off the lights and TV. I hang clothes outside to dry. I walk rather than use the car."
"I wanted to buy another house, but I cannot."
"We are cutting back to basics. We cut back from cable to local TV."
"I have to cut back spending to help my parents."
"I am not giving as much money to my kids. I am on a budget. I am not as free in spending as I used to be. We are retired. My husband had a retirement annuity that was canceled."
"I am staying out of shopping malls."
"I cut back on cable TV. We purchased a new phone service for less. We are commuting to work together. We are shopping for better car insurance. We are giving less to the church and other charities."
"We buy budget. We buy less for our animals. We are growing a garden this year. We are not spending as much on travel."
"I do my own yard work and repairs on vehicles."
"If I do go out to eat I make it less expensive places. I cut back on health care expenses. I refrain from many things I'm used to. ... I'm not buying foods that are not needed. Clothing purchases are fewer. ... I am patching up jeans instead of buying new ones. Vacations are the biggest cutback. I am driving less. ... I used to pay guys to do my yard work. Now I am doing it myself."