- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008

Forget the woes of war, terrorists and a troubling culture. American angst is now centered on the economy, our worries fixated on gas prices, personal finances, unemployment, inflation, stagnant real estate - dotted with a few resilient pockets of optimism, according to research released Friday.

“The public continues to be extremely downbeat,” said a Pew Research Center survey that found just 10 percent of us deemed the economy to be in “good shape.”

More than half of the respondents - 54 percent - said we are already in a recession, while 18 percent said we were in a depression.

Assorted economic problems were cited by 61 percent as the most important problem facing the nation, far surpassing the war in Iraq (cited by 17 percent), educational challenges (4 percent) and terrorism, health care, flagging national morals, the state of our government and defense (each issue cited by 3 percent).

Some are more optimistic than others. Adults under 30 lead the pack, with 71 percent expecting things to get better, followed by blacks (62 percent), those with incomes under $50,000 a year (58 percent), Republicans (56 percent) and those 30-49 years of age (55 percent).

The new findings offered a veritable laundry list of anxiety. Eight out of 10 of us say economic uncertainty is “no hiccup,” but represents a serious, deep-seated problem. Almost three-fourths said the proverbial “good job” was nowhere to be found, while more than two-thirds said they couldn’t afford gasoline any more.

Two-thirds blamed international competition for oil for our sorry economic state, followed by bad loans from banks (59 percent) and the unwise habits of spendthrift citizens (54 percent). Fewer than half blamed the federal budget deficit.

Yet Americans do not appear ready to give up.

Almost three-fourths - 72 percent - said that inflation can be remedied, while 68 percent said “the federal government can still fix a global economy.” And a majority of the people are confident when it comes to their own pocketbooks: 51 percent say they’re optimistic their personal finances will improve.

The survey of 1,503 adults was conducted July 23-27 and has an error margin of three percentage points.

Though most of the news is troubling, Americans were keenly interested in the story nonetheless.

A separate Project for Excellence in Journalism survey found that press coverage of the economy was closely followed by 46 percent of the respondents, compared to 30 percent who concentrated on election news. Our interest in economic stories also trumped our interest in the war in Iraq, the upcoming hurricane season and the Beijing Olympics.

But there’s a disconnect between press and people - just 6 percent of the total national news was devoted to economic news, while 38 percent covered the election.

The survey of 1,002 adults was conducted July 21-27 and has an error margin of three percentage points.