The Corner

Economy & Business

How the Public Thinks about the Economy

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in N.Y., December 20, 2018. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Michael Strain’s essay in the Guardian, mentioned below, starts with the thought that it’s an odd time for capitalism to be in such disrepute: Unemployment is low and wages at the low end of the labor market are rising.

I used a similar starting point in a recent NR article, and offered a theory for the seeming disjunction: Maybe people are happy about the economy’s recent performance but unhappy about it over the longer term.

There’s some relevant polling data that I didn’t have space to discuss in that article. From the summer of 2001 through today, Gallup has been asking this question: Thinking about the job situation in America today, would you say that it is now a good time or a bad time to find a quality job?

Since President Trump took office in 2017, more than 50 percent of respondents have consistently said it’s a good time to be looking for a job. Before that, the only time Gallup found a positive reading above 50 percent was . . . never. It hadn’t happened once from 2001 through 2016, let alone consistently happened.

Gallup has also repeatedly asked whether economic conditions are getting better or worse. A plurality or, less often, a majority said conditions were getting better from the summer of 1996 through the end of 1999; in spring 2002; from late 2003 to early 2005; in 2010; in 2012-13; in 2015; and from 2017 onward.

For most of the last 20 years, Americans have had negative answers to these basic economic questions. It is perhaps not surprising that they are, even in a good economy, unsatisfied with an economic system that is delivering satisfactory results so rarely. If the strong economy continues for a few more years, however, perhaps some of that dissatisfaction will fade.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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