Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Unemployment now Americans’ top concern

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

It's hardly news that Americans are concerned about the economy. But are they mainly worried about the bleak economic situation in general -- things like slow GDP growth, market turmoil, and the weak housing sector -- or about the narrower issue of unemployment? Lately, it looks like the latter.

Gallup asks people every month what they think is the most important problem facing the country, and offers several choices, including "the economy in general," and unemployment/jobs." In reality, of course, the two are closely connected. Unemployment won't significantly decline until the economy itself gets moving again -- and that won't happen until demand picks up. Still, the question helps get at what's on people's minds, and what the specific focus of their concern is.

This month, with the official jobless rate at 9.1 percent, 39 percent of respondents said unemployment, up from 28 percent last month. Meanwhile, the share who said the economy in general declined from 31 to 28.

In the 95 months since the start of 2004, this is just the seventh time that the number of people naming unemployment has exceeded the number naming the economy in general. And the 11-point gap is the largest in favor of unemployment since then.

Only three months ago, the picture was different. In June, thirty-six percent of respondents named the economy in general, while just 24 percent said unemployment.

Why the turnaround? The unemployment has barely budged since the start of the year, it's unlikely that people are responding to the actual prevalence of joblessness. It seems more likely that the recent focus on jobs from Washington -- including a televised speech from President Obama -- has boosted the salience of the issue.

As for other answers about America's biggerst problem, none even came close. Fouteen percent of respondents named "dissatisfaction with the federal government," while 12 percent said the federal budget deficit.

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