If you ask around, about one in five Americans (19 percent) will tell you that unemployment is the most important problem facing the United States. According to the same poll, conducted by Gallup in March, 17 percent cite the economy in general as the most important problem — which is a bucket that ostensibly contains the unemployment problem — and 3 percent cite simply a “lack of money,” also presumably a function of employment, be it unemployment, underemployment or wage stagnation.
The moral of the story is that a large number of Americans believe that the U.S. job market is FUBAR. According to a separate Gallup poll, just 28 percent of Americans believe that now is a good time to find a quality job. Granted, this is the highest level seen since the financial crisis, but it’s still dismal. As President Barack Obama put it in his 2014 State of the Union address, ”the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job,” and an economy without opportunity is hardly an economy worth participating in.
The data confirm the sentiment — or the sentiment reflect the data. At 58.8 percent, having crashed and never recovered in the wake of the financial crisis, the employment-to-population ratio is as low as it was in the 1980s. At about 63 percent, the civilian labor force participation rate is where it was in the late 1970s. At $36,733 in 2013, real disposable income per capita is as high as it has ever been, but the growth flatlined that year.
All these bad news bears have weighed on overall economic confidence, which has yet to turn positive — meaning more people are optimistic than pessimistic — since the financial crisis in 2008.