Just over a week after the unemployment rate dropped from 9 percent to 8.6 percent, fewer Americans are hearing negative news about the economy, but there’s no apparent benefit for broader views of the U.S. economy, or for President Obama.

What changed

Fewer than four in 10 adults (36 percent) reported hearing “mostly bad economic news” in a Pew Research Center poll released last week, down 12 points from November and about half as many who said so in August (67 percent). Still, just 6 percent are hearing “mostly good” economic news, while a majority is hearing mixed news.

What didn’t

Fully 86 percent of Americans in a December CBS News poll (pdf) rated the economy as fairly or very bad, identical to last month, and nearly four in 10 now say the economy is getting worse (39 percent), up from about a third in November (32 percent).

As might be expected, Obama’s approval rating has not moved much — ticking up an insignificant single point from November in the CBS poll and two points in a Fox News poll, both released Friday*. In perhaps a clearer test, Gallup’s daily tracking polls find Obama’s approval rating averaging 42 percent since the unemployment report was released, compared to a nearly identical 43 percent in the two weeks prior. Obama’s approval rating on the economy in December is also almost the same as his November score in the CBS poll (33 percent now, 34 percent then), and his rating on job creation is unchanged from October at 35 percent.

All these numbers underscore the difficulty Obama will have reversing a very negative economic narrative. As we noted last week, a falling unemployment rate hasn’t changed how Americans perceive economic news, and the number hearing “mostly good” economic news has been in single digits for most of Obama’s presidency. The latest jobs numbers haven’t changed that dynamic, at least in the short term.

*Obama’s disapproval numbers also ticked up three points in the Fox News poll, “don’t know” responses dropped from 10 to 5 percent.

Long-term unemployed: profiled

The 5 percent of Americans who have been unemployed or underemployed for at least a year face a bleak situation, according to a unique survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and NPR released Monday. Majorities of each group have been out of full-time work for at least two years, and more than six in 10 are not confident they will find a job with the pay and benefits they need.

On the home front, more than half have dipped into savings or retirement funds, sold belongings or borrowed money from relatives or friends to pay bills. Some 53 percent say they have been contacted by a collection agency, 43 percent report trouble paying for family medical bills and 33 percent say they have changed their living situation (e.g. moving in with family or friends).

Majorities of both long-term unemployed and under-employed adults say job placement or training programs would help them and about six in 10 welcome extended health insurance benefits for the unemployed. Just over one in 10 say federal government efforts to deal with the economic situation have helped them so far, while most say they have either not made a difference or hurt them and their family.

GOP primary update

Newt Gingrich maintains strong double-digit leads over Mitt Romney in South Carolina (Jan. 21 primary) and Florida (Jan. 31 primary), according to NBC-Marist polls released Sunday. Gingrich leads 42 to 23 percent over Romney in South Carolina and by a 44 to 29 percent margin in Florida.

NBC notes that “Among tea party supporters — who make up about half of all likely primary voters in South Carolina and Florida — the former House speaker leads Romney by more than 30 percentage points in both states (51-20 percent in South Carolina and 57-22 percent in Florida).

Want to dig deeper? See the poll results by tea party, ideology and demographics for South Carolina and Florida (both pdfs) on Marist’s site.

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