With the economy slowing to a near-standstill this year, and the prospect of a turnaround appearing increasingly unlikely, Americans' spirits -- particularly among the country's lowest earners -- seem to be sinking to greater depths all the time.
Recent polls show that confidence and happiness are falling, likely as a result of the enervated economy, which has barely grown this year and added no new jobs in the past month. The downturn in public opinion has occurred at about the same time that talk in Washington has increasingly focused on economic growth and job creation, suggesting that many Americans aren't persuaded their leaders in the public sector have answers.
A weekly consumer-sentiment survey from Bloomberg, published Thursday, found that confidence was at its second-lowest point for the year in the week ending September 4. It was especially down amongst Americans who earn less than $15,000 a year -- that group reported feeling less confident than at any time since the mid-1990s.
Separately, a Gallup poll published Thursday showed that Americans' overall contentedness -- as measured by responses to a survey that asked whether participants felt like they were "thriving," "struggling" or "suffering" -- fell in August to the lowest level since July 2009, the tail end of the Great Recession.
Gallup noted that anxiety brought on by the weak economy may be affecting Americans' sense of satisfaction with their lives. In particular, an annual poll in August found that a near-record number of people were worried about losing their jobs.
In response to the softening economy -- which grew at an annualized rate of just 1 percent in the spring, well below what economists say is needed for a robust recovery -- President Obama is expected to announce a jobs-creation plan during a special address to a joint session of Congress Thursday evening.
The plan, said to be worth at least $300 billion, may include provisions for infrastructure spending, unemployment benefits and payroll tax cut extensions.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have each publicized jobs-and-growth plans of their own. Huntsman's plan includes a detailed road map for energy reform, while Romney's calls for lower taxes, fewer regulations and measures to curtail the powers of labor unions.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, for his part, said that the Fed will "do all it can to help restore high rates of growth and employment" in remarks to the Economic Club of Minnesota on Thursday, though he did not elaborate on what the Fed might do.
Still, despite the pledges of proactivity from government officials, Americans appear to recognize the magnitude of the challenges facing the economy. Most analysts predict that the economy will continue to crawl along at a weak rate of growth for at least another several months, which may bode ill for Obama's re-election prospects.
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