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Americans' Optimism About Finances at 11-Year High

Americans' Optimism About Finances at 11-Year High

by Art Swift

Story Highlights

  • In U.S., 52% say their financial situation is improving
  • Highest since 2004 and at majority level for first time since recession
  • Across income, age and political groups, sentiment higher

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A majority of Americans, 52%, say their financial situation is "getting better," the highest percentage to say this since 2004. It is also the first time since the recession that this sentiment has reached the majority level.

Right now, do you think that your financial situation as a whole is getting better or getting worse?

These data are from a Gallup's annual Economy and Finance survey, poll conducted April 9-12. The percentage of Americans saying their situation is getting better rose nine percentage points from last year.

Gallup has been asking Americans whether their financial situation is getting better or getting worse since 2001. Americans were most positive about the outlook for their personal finances in 2002, when 60% said their financial situation was getting better, while they were least optimistic about their condition in 2011 (29%), as the government showdown over raising the debt ceiling led to instability in the stock market.

There are several possible reasons why Americans are more optimistic this year about their financial situation. Gas prices are about $1.25 per gallon less in the U.S. than they were this time last year, putting more money into American consumers' pockets. Americans are also more positive about the national economy -- Gallup's Economic Confidence Index has been generally higher in 2015 than last year -- reaching positive territory for the first time in years. The economy has been creating more jobs than in previous years as well, with unemployment at 5.5%, nearly half of what it was five years ago.

Financial Optimism Growing Across Income Groups

Financial optimism has increased across key subgroups this year compared with last year. In every income group, the percentage saying their financial situation is getting better has increased from 2014. The most substantial leap was among those who are making between $20,000 and $30,000 per year. Fifty-one percent of Americans in this income group now say their financial situation is getting better, up from 35% last year. The percentage earning over $75,000 who say their finances are getting better jumped 14 percentage points from last year. However, middle-income earners are only slightly more optimistic than they were last year.

Americans Across Income, Age and Political Party Subgroups Saying Financial Situation Getting Better

Young adults are the most optimistic about their financial situation, with a commanding 70% saying their situation is improving, up 10 points from last year. In three of the four age groups, the trend is up from last year. Only in one age group, 50-64, was there not much of an increase. This typical pattern in which young Americans are more optimistic about their finances than those who are older is also found in Gallup's economic confidence and standard of living metrics. However, seniors' outlooks are better this year than last year, which might be attributed to improvements in the stock market and retirement accounts recovering.

Not only is there a sizable gap between young and older Americans' views, but there is also a significant divide between Republicans' and Democrats' perceptions of whether their financial situation is getting better. Thirty-eight percent of Republicans say their situation is getting better, while 63% of Democrats say the same. Republicans barely budged from 37% last year, while Democrats jumped 11 points from 2014. Independents' views fall roughly in between the two main parties, with 52% saying that their situation is getting better. This matches the overall percentage of Americans who say this.

This partisan divide could be attributed to allegiances with or against President Barack Obama. It is not uncommon for Americans' views of various national conditions, such as the economy, to vary depending on the party of the president in office. And while the president's actions likely do not directly affect Americans' personal finances, partisanship does affect how Americans evaluate them.

Less Than Half of Americans Say Financial Situation Excellent or Good

Despite the uptick in Americans' financial optimism, when asked to rate their financial situation today, Americans' ratings of their current situation are unchanged. Currently, 46% rate it as "excellent" or "good." This figure has stayed relatively stable during the past decade, with the percentage climbing to 57% in 2003, well before the Great Recession. The low points were in 2010 and 2012, when, each year, 41% said their financial situation was excellent or good.

How would you rate your financial situation today -- as excellent, good, only fair or poor?

Bottom Line

For the first time since 2007, more than half of Americans believe that their personal financial situation is getting better, consistent with the rise in Americans' confidence in the national economy more generally. President Obama has stated that the economy has turned a corner and smoother sailing is on the way, and many Americans seem to share that optimism when it comes to their personal finances. While Americans are more optimistic about their future financial situation, their perceptions of the current financial situation have not changed much over the past decade. With economic confidence fluctuating a bit, and Gallup's Economic Confidence Index struggling to stay in positive territory -- an important psychological threshold -- it is unclear whether 2015 will be a year of sustained warm feelings toward one's finances or a confusing, inconclusive mix.

Historical data on these questions are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 9-12, 2015, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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