Chicago economy

83% say the economy is bad while the job market is strong

Americans are feeling ultra pessimistic about the economy, according to a new survey from the Wall Street Journal and the University of Chicago’s NORC.

A whopping 83% of respondents describe the economy as bad or not so good. And 35% said they were unhappy with their own finances, the highest level of dissatisfaction reported since the survey began in 1972.

However, compared to previous years, the economy is doing quite well, economists say. “If we talk about what’s happened over the last year and a half, or even the last five years, things have generally improved,” says Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Inflation is the biggest story of the day…

Americans view the economy the way they do for two main reasons, Baker says. One is inflation. “Americans are looking for high prices, especially high gas prices, and people are buying gas every week,” he says. “It’s a big hit for their wallets.”

Gasoline prices are up 43.6% from a year ago, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food prices rose 9.4% and clothing prices rose 5.4%.

Americans are looking for high prices, especially high gasoline prices, and people are buying gasoline every week. It’s a big hit in their wallets.

Seeing the constant headlines about rising prices might make Americans feel like the economy is worse than it is. “The coverage of the economy has been quite inflation-focused,” he says.

These high prices “are not long-term,” he says. Inflation on goods can be attributed, in part, to supply chain issues, which are already easing. High gas prices can be attributed to the war in Ukraine.

… while the “fantastic job market” does not make the headlines

Americans could easily find optimism in job growth and higher wages, says Baker: “It’s the best job market since the late 1960s.” The total number of wage jobs no agricultural workers rose by almost 400,000 in May and unemployment remained at 3.6%.

Unlike inflation, however, job growth receives less mainstream media coverage.

“We do a thousand things a day and if I go to the grocery store and see the milk has gone up 5 cents, I might not notice much,” he says. “But if I turn on the TV it says milk prices have gone up, that’s what was pointed out.

“It’s a fantastic job market, but [Americans] don’t hear that. They hear that the price of milk has gone up.”

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