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Lots of Fear Remains Over Economy, Job Losses

By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Despite fresh signs that the worst may be over for the beleaguered U.S. economy, there has been no letup in public fears about possible financial hardship ahead and there is broad concern that not enough is being done to avert another meltdown, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Painful personal experiences over the past year continue to dampen the outlook of many Americans. About two-thirds of those polled say they have been hurt financially by the recession, with extensive reports that job losses and pay reductions are hitting home. Most call the economic situation a source of stress in their lives, and that anxiety also stems from apprehension of what may lie ahead for their families.

Nearly six in 10 Americans are now concerned about job or pay losses in the coming months, little changed since February, and there has been no increase in the percentage who see the federal government's stimulus efforts as having an impact, even as the pace of layoffs has eased in recent months. And there is lukewarm public confidence that the government is enacting measures to stave off another financial crisis.

Overall, 49 percent say they are confident that sufficient new financial regulations are being put into place, but just one in 10 expresses a lot of faith that this is happening. Fewer respondents think that major financial institutions are adapting their business practices to make another meltdown less likely (41 percent say they are confident this is occurring; 8 percent are "very confident" it is).

President Obama himself, who took to Wall Street on Monday to pitch his administration's plans to overhaul the nation's financial regulations, also gets a lukewarm 51 percent approval rating on dealing with the economy and an even lower assessment on his handling of the federal budget deficit (39 percent).

Continued high levels of concern about the downturn are taking a toll on the president's ratings: Among those who say they are concerned about future job losses or pay cuts, Obama's approval rating on handling the economy has dropped from 62 percent in February to 45 percent now, while it has remained steady among those who are less anxious.

Concern about the impact of recession crosses party lines. More than six in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents say they have been hurt by the recession. Higher- and lower-income households alike reported significant levels of economic pain.

Lower-income respondents have felt the brunt of the economic contraction more directly, with more than a third of those with annual household incomes under $50,000 reporting a job loss at home, compared with about two in 10 of those with higher incomes.

Slashed pay or work hours have had a broader impact, regardless of household income. About four in 10 respondents have had to adjust to such declines. Nearly half in the new poll say they or someone in their household had suffered a job loss or cut in pay or work hours in the last year, up four points since the spring.

The $787 billion dollar federal stimulus program enacted in February also gets middling reviews. In numbers little changed over the past few months, 52 percent see the package of outlays as already helping the economy, or think it will, while 46 percent say it will not. The vast majority of Democrats continue to be positive about this round of federal spending, while most Republicans hold a critical viewpoint. Independents are split down the middle, with 48 percent seeing the plan as working, 51 percent as not.

Stagnant views on the stimulus parallel a steep decline in Obama's advantage over congressional Republicans in terms of dealing with the nation's economy. At the 100-day-mark of his presidency, Obama held a 37-point lead over the GOP on this marquee issue, but that has now dipped to 11 points in the new poll, with 48 percent saying they trust Obama more, 37 percent the GOP. That decline is centered among independents and moderates, who now split about evenly between the president and the Republicans.

But fading faith in the president's handling of the issue has not translated into blame for the nation's economic woes. Just under three in 10 say that Obama deserves a "great deal" or "a good amount" of blame for not doing enough to turn the economy around. Far more, about two-thirds, hold former president George W. Bush responsible for inadequate regulation of the financial industry.

Partisan differences on whom to blame still run deep, with 85 percent of Democrats pointing the finger at Bush -- more than twice the level among Republicans (38 percent). Among independents, 63 percent blame Bush, 28 percent Obama.

The poll was conducted Sept. 10 to 12 among a random sample of 1,007 adults on both conventional and cellular telephones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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