Commentary | Budget, Taxes, and Public Investment

Tracking the recovery: Most Americans see high unemployment for some time

The Department of Labor’s latest report showing that unemployment rose to 9.8% in September comes as many economists are declaring the recession to be over or nearly over, and points to a disparity between the official state of the economy and what many Americans are experiencing in their own lives.

A recent survey, Tracking the Recovery: Voters’ Views on the Recession, Jobs and the Deficit, found that not only had almost one quarter of Americans experienced a layoff in their household, but most people expect unemployment will remain a big problem for at least a year. The survey, conducted for EPI by Hart Research Associates, asked 802 registered voters about their thoughts on the economy. While 83% of those surveyed said unemployment is a “very big” or a “fairly big” problem today, 61% said it would remain a very big or a fairly big problem a year from today. The survey was conducted between September 21 and 23.

Those same voters said that they considered rising unemployment to be a bigger problem than the growth of the federal budget deficit: By a large margin, they believe the focus for improving the economy should be on creating good jobs and investing in education and energy independence, rather than shrinking government spending to reduce the deficit. The vast majority of those surveyed — 81% — said the Obama administration still needs to do more to deal with the loss of jobs.

As far as the current federal budget deficit is concerned, voters surveyed blamed the Bush administration for creating it, over the Obama administration, by a margin of almost two-to-one. While results to this question were split somewhat predictably along party lines, Independent voters blamed the Bush administration for the deficit by a large margin.