September 12, 2013

Americans perceive an uneven recovery — and they’re right

Americans take a lot of flak — some of it deserved — for their misperceptions about public policy, global affairs and other matters outside the average person’s everyday experience. But when it comes to assessing the U.S. economy’s recovery from the Great Recession, their perceptions are pretty much on the mark.

Today’s Pew Research Center report on the U.S. economy, five years after the financial sector nearly collapsed and took the rest of the country with it, asked Americans how much four key metrics have or have not recovered since the recession. Here’s what they said, along with a check of the data:

econReality_market_420The stock market was clearly seen as having benefited the most from the recovery: 21% of people said stocks have fully recovered and 53% said they’ve partially recovered. In fact, the benchmark S&P 500 index stands about 35% higher than it did five years ago, and has been consistently above its pre-crash high since the spring. However, as a Pew Research report from April noted, the runup in stocks mainly benefits the already rich: While 59% of households with a net worth of at least $500,000 directly own stocks or mutual fund shares, only 13% of lower net worth households do; wealthier households also are much more likely to own 401(k)-type retirement accounts.

econReality_housing_420Nearly six-in-ten (59%) of respondents said real-estate values have partially recovered from the recession, while a third said they’ve hardly recovered. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s U.S. house price index (which has broader coverage than the more widely cited Case-Shiller index) is up a seasonally adjusted 11.3% since January 2012. But the index is still 10.5% below the heights it reached in the spring of 2007.

econReality_jobs_420People are more pessimistic about jobs and income, and with good reason.  Fully 45% of respondents said the job situation has only partially recovered, and 52% said it’s hardly recovered at all. While the unemployment rate has declined steadily for nearly four years, that’s due in no small part to people simply leaving the labor force — taking early retirement, going back to graduate school, or simply giving up looking for work. The employment-population ratio, which compares people with jobs to the entire working-age population, is up only slightly since its early-2011 low. (The chart shows the ratio for people ages 25 to 54, to minimize the impact of students and retirees).

econReality_income_310As for median household income, the most recent data we have is for 2011 (the Census Bureau will release 2012 numbers next week), but they show that after factoring in inflation, the median U.S. household income shrank 4.7 percent between 2008 and 2011. Little surprise, then, that more than half (54%) of the people in our survey said household incomes have hardly recovered since the recession, and a scant 2% said they’ve fully recovered.

Topics: Economics and Personal Finances, Economic Recession

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. William Cahill Sr4 years ago

    I am a retired aircraft mechanic from Eastern Air Lines. Those in my skill have not kept up with the cost of living and neither have those in all other labor groups. Since the Republicans have taken power and deregulated the banking industry, cut the taxes for the wealthy, and forced the weakening of the unions, the divide from the richest 1% and the middle class has widened so much that the middle class has almost disappeared. It is obvious that the income tax breaks the wealthiest have received have greatly benefitted them at the cost of the middle class and poor. The cost of living percentage is about the same for rich and poor, but the wealthy have much more cash to save than the middle class and poor. Without an equal percentage tax on the wealthy the divide will only get worse and ultimately make the middle class and poor suffer even more. It’s no wonder people have to work two and three jobs at minimum wage in order to survive.

  2. Larry E White4 years ago

    Perhaps those of us on fixed income have lost more then the charts indicate. My social security increase of .017 percent in three years is nowhere near the increases in the price of goods and services that I must have. Someone should put the 3D glasses on, they would see what I feel; Disillusioned, Disgusted, and Depressed. It is not normal for me to be in a revolutionary state of mind. I have tended to stay on the sunny side of life, but lately that hasn’t been easy when raindrops keep falling on my head.

    1. Joe Adams4 years ago

      I fully agree!! Those of us on Social Security are taking a bath, and the crazies in congress have most Americans believing we’re on the dole. I worked sixty-plus years “donating” to FICA.
      We are being raped!! At least they should kiss us.

      1. LeslieD4 years ago

        “We are being raped!! At least they should kiss us.”
        Thanks! That made my day. No, my week! Dang! My year!

        I only hope the young today, poor and struggling, middle-class and dwindling, share that insight of humor you express and I share.

        If resentment, anger and bitterness result, we seniors are in for a very hard time. History shows that kind of disenchantment, loss of hope, might be turned not toward the source – the rich and powerful, but toward another group, the vulnerable – seniors.

        I do everything I can to build bonds with the young. The rare, but genuine “kiss,” is a treasure. The middle-aged of any economic group? It’s a bite.