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A Majority of Americans Believe U.S. Is In Recession and Unemployment Is At 50-Year High. They’re Wrong


We have often made the case that polls are just a snapshot in time.

But what happens when that snapshot is fuzzy and out-of-focus?

Nearly three in five Americans wrongly believe that the United States is in an economic recession, according to a Harris survey conducted for the Guardian. The same poll indicates that those Americans blame President Joe Biden for the current situation.

The poll numbers give pause.

  • 55% of the respondents believe the economy is shrinking and 56% say the U.S. is experiencing a recession. Fact. The broadest measure of the economy – the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – increased 3.4% in the fourth quarter of 2023 and 1.6% in the first quarter of 2024.
  • Approximately one-half (49%) believe the S&P 500 stock market index is down for the year. Fact. The S&P is above 5,300 and up more than 12% as of today and rose 24% a year ago.
  • Nearly 1-in-2 (49%) surveyed believe that unemployment is at a 50-year high. Fact. The U.S. unemployment rate has been near a 50-year-low at 3.9%.


The cause for these problems in Americans’ minds? Joe Biden.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that the U.S. economy is worsening due to mismanagement from his administration.

Want more numbers?

Nearly three-fourths (72%) said that inflation is increasing, yet the rate has fallen from a June 2022 peak of 9.1% to 3.4% in April. That announcement fueled a rise in the Dow Jones 30 index to record highs near 40,000.

Before you cast dispersions on those surveyed as mostly supporters of former President Donald Trump, while two-thirds of Republicans (67%) believe that America is experiencing a recession, the numbers are still high for independents (53%) and Democrats (49%). Four in five Republicans say that inflation is increasing. That figure is not far ahead of that of independents (74%) while three in five (61%) of Democrats believe the same.

The issue at hand may be laid at the feet of the media or those who consume its news.

Affiliates of both parties – more than 60% – agree that they do not know who to trust when it comes to learning about the economy.

While the topline news may appear bad for the current occupant of the White House, there were some bright lights in the Harris Poll.

Four in 10 Republicans indicated they believe ‘Bidenomics’ will have a positive lasting impact – an 11 percentage-point jump since the last Harris survey in September – while 81% of Democrats said the same. And three-fourths of respondents said they support at least one of the key pillars of Biden’s economic plan, which includes investments in infrastructure, hi-tech electronics manufacturing, clean-energy facilities, and more union jobs.

“What Americans are saying in this data is: ‘Economists may say things are getting better, but we’re not feeling it where I live,’” said John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll. “Unwinding four years of uncertainty takes time. Leaders have to understand this and bring the public along.”

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, thinks that Americans are having difficulty separating economic news from everything else, leading to the challenge facing the Biden administration – how to get across its message?

“The media lives off conflict. And Trump is nothing but conflict,” Reich wrote in an editorial for the Guardian. “He bloviates, lies, exaggerates, takes credit, avoids blame, and belittles and excoriates opponents. So, he gets a lot of airtime.

“Biden does the hard work of getting stuff done. But editors and publishers don’t find this particularly exciting. So, few people know what Biden is doing or has accomplished.”


One Response

  1. It has been posited and supported that the published unemployment rate right now excludes a vast swath of people who through pre pandemic monkeying and post pandemic reality left the work force permanently so are no longer included in looking for work, but are included in the can work. The formula is basically those “looking for work”/”those who can work”. So when you reduce the number of “those looking for work” while leaving them in the “those who can work” the unemployment number looks really good. Adding the able bodied people back into those “looking for work” creates an unemployment rate nearer to 7.4%

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