Consumers are in no hurry to declare the recession over and done with, despite some positive (or, at least, less negative) recent economic numbers. Polling conducted late last month for National Public Radio by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found 36 percent of respondents believing the economy "has bottomed out and is starting to improve." But roughly as many (37 percent) think the economy "has not bottomed out and will still get worse," while another 24 percent think it's "at the bottom but is not yet getting any better." (The rest were unsure.)
That's consistent with respondents' impression of how the economy has performed during the past six months. Fifty percent think it has gotten worse during that period, vs. 37 percent saying it has gotten better. It's also consistent with new Commerce Department data showing that inflation accounted for all of the slight rise in consumer spending in June.
The NPR survey included a feature that, though odd, has been a recurring element of public opinion since the recession struck. While a majority of respondents rejected the idea that things are getting better now, 67 percent think the economy will be better a year from now. It's as if Americans are too shell-shocked to be upbeat about the present or immediate future, but too congenitally optimistic to avoid seeing an upturn somewhere over the horizon. Anyhow, just 24 percent think the economy will be in worse shape a year from now.
In normal times, people tend to speak more positively of their personal circumstances than of the world at large when participating in a poll. But the recession has disrupted that pattern. Thus, while two-thirds of the respondents to this survey said they think the economy will be better a year from now, markedly fewer—50 percent—predicted the same about their own household's financial situation.
The poll also offered a reminder that while the economic downturn has affected lots of people, it has left others unscathed. Asked to compare their household's current economic situation to that of a year ago, just over half (53 percent) said they're now worse off. Twenty-two percent said they're better off than they were a year ago, with most of the rest saying their financial situation is about the same.
—Nielsen Business Media