Economists more bullish than voters, surveys show
WASHINGTON — The insurgent presidential bids of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have roused Americans who are angry and anxious about an economy they feel has left them behind.
Most economists have a brighter view. They say that although many people haven’t benefited much since the recession ended, a stronger economy lies ahead.
An Associated Press survey this month of nearly three dozen economists found that a majority thinks the United States remains resilient enough to defy a global slump and the sinking stock markets that have raised fears of a recession. With job growth solid, higher wages and spending should offset global threats and support growth, they say.
A majority said they thought stock investors have overreacted to sharply lower oil prices and a slowdown in China. They foresee only a 19 percent chance that the U.S. economy will fall into recession within 12 months.
Perhaps most notably in a political season that has sparked a polarizing debate on immigration, economists overwhelmingly described legal immigrants as a boon. They note that immigrants are disproportionately young and help expand the workforce, which fuels growth. And immigrants are more likely to start businesses than Americans as a whole are.
Yet, according to a Gallup survey released this month, Americans are more likely to name the economy as the country’s top problem than they are anything else. A quarter of those surveyed listed their chief concern as the economy in general or unemployment and jobs.
Other polls have found that a majority of Americans think the economy remains in recession, even though the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009.
So what explains the gap between the optimism of economists and the anxieties of voters?
For one thing, sluggish pay growth means many people are struggling even as broad gauges of the economy are improving.
For another, the economic recovery, which followed a devastating recession, has been unusually slow. Many people feel they’ve yet to regain their former living standards. In addition, some parts of the country haven’t recovered as well as the nation as a whole has.
“I can say the economy is in good shape, but I can understand why many people are ticked off and say it’s not, because their wages haven’t grown,” said Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisers.
The typical household’s annual income sank during the recession and didn’t regain its prerecession level until November 2015, according to Sentier Research. That’s a much slower, more painful pace than occurred after previous recessions.
“It’s been six or seven years, and we’re only now where we should have been after two years,” said Tim Hopper, chief economist for TIAA-CREF. “We have not seen the typical growth rates in income and employment.”
Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, noted that the recovery has occurred unevenly across the country. Falling oil prices have brought widespread layoffs in oil-producing states. But high-tech hubs such as San Francisco, Denver and Salt Lake City are booming.
More than 50 million Americans live in areas that kept losing jobs and businesses through the first half of the recovery, according to a report by the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan think tank backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
Hiring, income and business growth has been concentrated in wealthier ZIP codes, the report found. In the median-income ZIP code, job growth matched only half the pace of the national average.