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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Americans and the Jobs Problem

Each month we ask Americans to name the most important problem facing the country. Responses are placed into categories. This month, the response category of “jobs” has (slightly) edged out the "economy" as the top. In other words, slightly more Americans say "jobs" or "unemployment" when asked to name the most important problem than say "the economy."

This is only the third month in which this has happened since the recession hit in 2008. This is not a big deal in the big picture, since both jobs and the economy are part and parcel of an even-larger umbrella category of economic mentions -- a category which totaled 69% in November (i.e., 69% of Americans mentioned some aspect of the economy as the nation's top problem). Still, the specific category “jobs” has percolated up to 33% mentions after being in the low 20%s last June and July. The "economy", a general category, is mentioned by 31% of respondents.

This poll was conducted at a time in which Americans’ economic confidence has been improving. In fact, our Economic Confidence Index is now at -19 (Nov. 9 update), which is as positive as it has been since last May. Gallup's Economic Confidence Index was way down from a -33 as recently as the week before the election in late October.

Why might "jobs" be up some in terms of Americans' mentions of the top problems facing the country? It may be that the salience of Friday’s government unemployment news was fresh on some respondents' minds as they answered this question -- although some interviewing was conducted Thursday night before the report was made public Friday morning. Otherwise, it may simply reflect continuing concern about employment.

We are still faced with the question, of course, about what to do to improve the jobs and employment picture.

Here’s what President Obama said in his press conference on Wednesday:

I think that there is no doubt that people’s number-one concern is the economy. And what they were expressing great frustration about is the fact that we haven’t made enough progress on the economy. We’ve stabilized the economy. We’ve got job growth in the private sectors. But people all across America aren’t feeling that progress. They don't see it. And they understand that I’m the President of the United States, and that my core responsibility is making sure that we’ve got an economy that's growing, a middle class that feels secure, that jobs are being created. And so I think I've got to take direct responsibility for the fact that we have not made as much progress as we need to make.

President Obama is right on in his diagnosis that the economy is the people’s number-one concern -- as I reviewed above. But what about his assertion that it is his “core responsibility” to make sure that “ . . . jobs are being created”?

We do have some data that speak to the general issue of the role of the federal government in attacking the jobs problem.

In our September Gallup Governance survey, we asked Americans to indicate how much responsibility they felt government should have for a list of different challenges facing society. One of these was “Making sure that all those who want jobs have them.” Here’s what we found:

So we have a little more than half -- 51% -- of Americans who tilt toward the total responsibility end of this scale when it comes to creating jobs. Only 27% tilt toward the no responsibility end of the scale. That would seem to suggest that the average American tilts toward getting the government involved in doing something about the employment situation in this country.

There are, as can be seen, differences across party lines.

About three-quarters of Democrats tilt toward “total responsibility,” contrasted with 40% of Republicans. So we know that Democrats are more oriented toward government actions in this arena than Republicans -- a not particularly shocking finding. But, even among Republicans, only 39% tilt toward the “no responsibility” end. So there is definitely at least some sentiment among GOPers that the government should do something about jobs.

Which, of course, leads us to the final question: what exactly should the government do about jobs? That's the key issue, of course. Some might argue that the government could help create jobs by more passive means such as providing tax cuts for all businesses.  Others might argue that the government could help create jobs by more active means such as stimulus spending. Same theoretical outcome; much different methods.

When we recently gave Americans a choice among four specific actions that should be Congress' priority after the election, "passing a new economic stimulus bill designed to create jobs" got more choices than any of the others listed -- but even that was only at 38%. Republicans, for example, were very unlikely to say that federal stimulus spending should be the priority, opting instead for cutting federal spending and repealing the healthcare reform act. Which helps underscore how difficult it is going to be for the new Congress to figure out exactly what it wants to do to help fix the nation's number one problem.


Anonymous said...
November 14, 2010 at 11:13 AM  

Very informative. Please consider adding an item advocating efforts and activities by the federal gov. to develop exports.

Also, add an item advocating accelerated (to compensate for laxity in recent years) of spending by ALL levels of government on repairing and upgrading infrastructure (bridges, roads, transportation, "green" construction and building rehabilitation and worker safety (as in coal mines), etc.). Such projects are appropriately funded publicly, and always have been. Pls ask more questions about how people feel about more spending in that area.

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