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Americans' Confidence in Their Finances Keeps Growing

Americans' Confidence in Their Finances Keeps Growing

by Jim Norman

Story Highlights

  • 69% expect their financial situation to improve over the next year
  • Optimism about finances over the next year is almost at a record-high level
  • 50% say they are in better shape financially than a year ago

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' optimism about their personal finances has climbed to levels not seen in more than 16 years, with 69% now saying they expect to be financially better off "at this time next year."

Line graph. A near-record 69% of Americans say they expect to better off financially a year from now.

The 69% saying they expect to be better off is only two percentage points below the all-time high of 71%, recorded in March 1998 at a time when the nation's economic boom was producing strong economic growth combined with the lowest inflation and unemployment rates in decades.

Americans are typically less positive about how their finances have changed over the past year than about where they're headed, and that remains the case. Fifty percent say they are better off today than they were a year ago. That 50% still represents a post-recession milestone -- the first time since 2007 that at least half of the public has said they are financially better off than a year ago.

Ten years ago, as the Great Recession neared its end, the percentage saying their finances had improved from the previous year was at a record low of 23%. More than half the public, 54%, said they were worse off. Now, with unemployment below 1998 levels and the job market growing steadily, the number saying they are worse off than a year ago has dropped to 26%, the lowest level since October 2000.

Line graph. Half of Americans say they are now better off financially than they were a year ago.

Only 11 times in 109 polls stretching back to 1976 have at least half of those polled said they were in better financial shape than they had been a year prior. Only once in 114 polls going back to 1977 have Americans been more optimistic about their personal finances in the coming year than they are today.

In every one of the 105 Gallup polls since 1977 that asked both questions, more Americans were optimistic about their future finances than said their current finances had improved versus a year prior. On average in those 105 polls, 56% have expected to be better off in the next year, while 39% have believed they were better off than they had been the previous year. For both questions, a substantial percentage of the public volunteered a response of "the same" -- indicating either that their finances had not changed in the past year or that they did not expect them to change in the coming year.

Partisanship Plays a Role in Perceptions of Past and Future Finances

Members of most major demographic groups are more likely in 2019 to say their financial situation has improved in the past year than to say they are worse off -- with Democrats the one major exception. By 37% to 32%, more Democrats say that compared with a year ago, they are worse off financially rather than better off. However, among some of the key groups that generally vote Democratic, a plurality or majority say they are better off.

  • Sixty-two percent of those under 30 say they are better off; 25% say worse off.
  • Forty-five percent of women say they are better off; 29% say worse off.
  • Forty-five percent of those with annual household incomes of less than $40,000 say better off, 35% worse off.
  • Among liberals, 40% say better off, 31% worse off.

Republicans are at the other end of the spectrum, with 68% saying they are better off, and only 10% saying worse off. Among groups that are more Republican than the national average, 66% of conservatives say they are better off, as do 57% of those with annual incomes of at least $100,000 and 56% of men.

Both Republicans and Democrats significantly changed their perceptions of how they were doing financially when the 2016 presidential election replaced outgoing Democrat Barack Obama with Republican Donald Trump.

The two most recent times the question was asked before Trump's election, in January 2015 and January 2016, as many Republicans -- 37%, on average -- said they were worse off as said they were better off. In the two polls since Trump has taken office, one in January 2018 and one last month, a robust majority of 67% have said they are better off, compared with 13% saying "worse off."

Democrats, who were more than twice as likely to say they were better off (58%) rather than worse off (24%) in the two pre-Trump-election polls, have reversed field, with 35% saying they are better off and 38% saying worse off in the two post-Trump-inauguration polls.

Changing White House Occupants, Changing Views of Personal Finances
Would you say that you are financially better off now than you were a year ago, or are you financially worse off now?
Better off Worse off
% %
2015-2016 polls
Democrats 58 24
Republicans 37 37
2018-2019 polls
Democrats 35 38
Republicans 67 13
Results based on combined January 2015-January 2016 polls and combined January 2018-January 2019 polls

For both Republicans and Democrats, results are more positive over the same time spans for the question asking about financial expectations for the coming year. Though Republicans' expectations rose after Trump took office and Democrats became less optimistic, majorities from both parties said they expected to be better off in the coming year in both the pre-Trump-election polls and the post-Trump-inauguration ones.

Bottom Line

The United States brought in the new year with a partial government shutdown that stretched through most of January and a growing sense of pessimism about the nation's economy.

But in spite of the negative turn in the public's views about the national economic picture, Americans are more upbeat now about their own finances than they have been in years.

Economic conditions can take rapid turns, and lofty expectations can be dashed in the process. But for now, it appears that most Americans believe, at least for their own financial situations, that 2019 will be a good year.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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