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Americans foresee unending economic doom

Even when things are looking up, Americans are feeling down.
Even when things are looking up, Americans are feeling down.
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The Great Recession has long been over, but many Americans don't feel that way. In fact, a new report shows that in more than one way, Americans are more pessimistic now than they were at the height of the downturn.

In a report released Thursday by Rutgers University's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, a vast majority of Americans — 71 percent — believe the Great Recession permanently altered the economy. That's up from only 49 percent in November 2009.

The below chart shows how Americans' attitudes on this question worsened over time (the timeline here goes right-to-left):

Recession effects permanent

Source: Rutgers University.

This is the latest report in a series of polls tracking Americans' most recent results come from an online poll conducted this summer, with 1,153 respondents and a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

It's not that Americans don't think the numbers will start to return to normal; only 35 percent think unemployment won't return to its pre-recession levels. That's perhaps high, but far larger shares think Americans' senses of job security (53 percent) and ability to retire when they'd like (59 percent) won't return to normal.

Really, what the report seems to show is that strong improvements in the economic numbers haven't registered with Americans. That's not because Americans are wrong — rather, it's that numbers don't tell the whole story. The nearly 10 million new jobs created since early 2010 feel less promising if the bulk of them are low-wage. Likewise, record stock index levels don't help people if they don't own stock.

Moreover, there's the fact that this recovery has been maddeningly slow; as it drags on, it can be easier to feel like it will never end.

Even more telling is that despite recent economic improvements, Americans by a wide margin think their kids will be worse off than they are job-wise, and in far greater numbers even than in late 2009.

Better next generation

Source: Rutgers University.

OK, so who do they think will help them out of this economic pit of despair? Not Washington. Only 22 percent of respondents have "some" or "a lot" of confidence government can boost their economic fortunes. That's a huge shift from just over a year and a half ago, when 42 percent believed this was the case.

Government

Source: Rutgers University.