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Americans Becoming More Pessimistic About the Economy

Americans Becoming More Pessimistic About the Economy

by Jim Norman

Story Highlights

  • 48% say economy is worsening, up from 45% in December, 36% in October
  • Public continues to be split on current state of the economy
  • Confidence that now is a good time to go job hunting holds at 66%

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' outlook for the economy has soured in the past two months, with 48% now saying economic conditions are worsening -- up from 45% in December and 36% in November. Meanwhile, Americans remain positive about the availability of quality jobs and are still split on whether the economy is in overall good shape.

Line graph. Americans’ views on the state of the economy and if it is a good time to find a quality job.

Americans were split last month on whether the economy is in good shape (50% saying "excellent" or "good") or not (49% saying "only fair" or "poor") and little has changed this month. Forty-nine percent now have a positive view (12% "excellent and 37% "good") and 50% a neutral (36% "only fair") or negative one (14% "poor").

Views on the availability of good jobs are much more positive, with 66% saying it is a good time to find a quality job. Even among those who think the economy is getting worse, almost half (48%) say now is a good time to find a quality job.

Gallup began asking the question about the availability of good jobs in August 2002, and the percentage saying it was a good time to find a quality job had never reached 50% until January 2017. Since then it has never been below 50% and has held relatively steady over the past nine months, ranging between 64% and 68%.

Prior to December, Americans had grown more optimistic during 2018 that the economy was getting better. The percentage believing the economy was improving, which stood at 46% in December 2017, rose to 57% by November 2018. However, a 10 percentage-point tumble to 47% in December was followed by a three-point drop this month to 44%. The corresponding level of pessimism over the past year saw the percentage thinking the economy is getting worse fall as low as 34% in October before rising to the current level of 48%.

Line graph. Americans’ opinions of whether the economy is getting better or worse.

The public has been dealing with several troubling economic factors this month, including the current federal government shutdown that began Dec. 20, volatility in the stock market that produced major declines in December and a government report released Jan. 4 that showed an uptick in national unemployment. All three events had occurred or were occurring while the poll was being conducted Jan. 2 through Jan. 10.

Partisan Gap Grows on Question of Whether Economy Is Getting Worse

The high-profile political contest between President Trump and the Democrats in Congress over the shutdown has been consistently in the news for more than a month, causing growing anxiety among Americans about the way the government is being run and feeding the already-powerful partisan split between Republicans and Democrats about Trump's performance as president.

The partisan split was evident throughout the last year on the issue of whether or not the economy was worsening, with the gap between Republicans and Democrats ranging between 53 points in April (Republicans 13%, Democrats 66%) and 41 points in October (Republicans 11%, Democrats 52%). Last month, the gap stood at 47 points, with 20% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats thinking the economy was getting worse.

Republicans, Democrats Differ Widely on Economy's Direction
Right now, do you think that economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting better or getting worse?
Republicans Democrats Party gap
% % Pct. pts.
January 2019
Getting better 83 18 65
Getting worse 13 74 61
December 2018
Getting better 76 22 54
Getting worse 20 67 47
November 2018
Getting better 87 32 55
Getting worse 9 57 48
"Party gap" shows percentage-point difference between Republicans and Democrats

This month the gap between the two parties has jumped 14 points to 61%. The percentage of Democrats saying the economy is worsening grew to 74%, the percentage of Republicans dropped to 13%.

Bottom Line

While it is impossible to know what effect the federal shutdown has had on perceptions of the economy, it is a fact that a 16-day shutdown in October 2013 coincided with drops in public confidence in the economy. The decline in confidence disappeared within a few months, however.

With that in mind, it may turn out that the future of the unemployment rate and the stock market will have far more bearing than the shutdown on whether Americans' views on their nation's economy turn sour over the rest of 2019.

View complete question responses and trends.

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