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Americans' crystal ball darkens

Survey finds anxiety greater now than at end of recession

WASHINGTON – Americans are more anxious about the economy now than they were right after the last recession ended despite stock market gains, falling unemployment and growth moving closer to full health.

Seventy-one percent of Americans say they think the recession exerted a permanent drag on the economy, according to a survey being released Thursday by Rutgers University. By contrast, in November 2009, five months after the last recession officially ended, the Rutgers researchers found that only 49 percent thought the downturn would have lasting damage.

And that was when the unemployment rate was 9.9 percent, compared with the current 6.2 percent.

“They’re more negative than they were five years ago,” Rutgers public policy professor Carl Van Horn said.

The slow pace of improvement during most of the recovery, now in its sixth year, has eroded confidence and slowed a return to the pay levels that many enjoyed before the economy suffered its worst collapse since the 1930s. About 42 percent of those surveyed say they have less pay and savings than before the recession began in late 2007. Just 7 percent say they’re significantly better off.

The survey results dovetail with estimates that the median household income was $53,891 in June, according to Sentier Research. That’s down from an inflation-adjusted $56,604 at the start of the recession.

Each year of subpar growth has compounded the anxieties of many Americans. In contrast to the robust snapbacks that coincided with most economic rebounds, this recovery proved tepid well after the recession had ended.

“No current worker had ever experienced this before,” Van Horn said. “This recession was everywhere.”

Researchers at Rutgers’ John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development surveyed online a national cross-section of 1,153 adults between July 24 andAug. 3. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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