Stress and the Economy

Apr 22, 2009 1:53pm

While we don’t know its cause, the reported suicide of Freddie Mac’s CFO underscores the level of economic-related stress Americans are experiencing – a serious public health concern. Stress not only is running high, it’s directly related to specific problems: economic insecurity, financial losses, worries about retirement income and layoffs or pay cuts.

In our ABC/Post poll last month 61 percent of Americans reported personal stress as a result of the economic situation; 33 percent – one in three – reported “serious” stress, up 6 points from February.

Stress was higher in our February poll among people who'd had a layoff or pay cut in the household, or a friend or family member who’d gotten the chop. But the strongest correlations were related to even more direct measures of financial pain. Among people who reported feeling “very” insecure financially, an enormous 65 percent also reported serious stress. That fell by half, to 32 percent, among those who felt just "somewhat" insecure, and again to 15 percent of those who felt secure financially.

Similarly, among people who reported being hurt “a great deal” by the recession, 55 percent reported serious stress – more than double its level among those who’d been hurt “somewhat,” 23 percent, and vastly more than those who hadn’t been hurt at all, among whom just 6 percent reported serious stress.

Finally, among people who were “not at all confident” in their retirement savings, 50 percent reported serious stress. That, too, declined sharply, to 29 percent among those who were “not so confident” in their retirement resources and just 15 percent of those who were confident.

Serious stress looks otherwise to be fairly evenly spread across the population. It's very similar among men and women. It peaks in our data among middle-agers (40-49) and is lowest among seniors. It's somewhat worse among lower-income adults, but truly crosses economic lines.

We delved into stress in another way last month, with open-ended responses from the many Americans who've been forced to cut back on their spending. The tales were disturbing; "If things don't change soon," one respondent said, "we are going to lose everything." From another: "We are struggling."

The personal tragedies related to stress are incalculable. Some of the roots of that stress, though, are discernable – a possible tool in addressing the problem.

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