Thus, over the past six years only about one in four individuals in this country has been "satisfied" with how things have been going in this country. Similar dissatisfaction levels over the past 35 years have only been seen in two periods, coinciding with the recessions of 1981 and 1991. However, in those cases, the low satisfaction levels remained low for just a single year or two. So the question is why the past six years have been so dismal for Americans, with easily the lowest satisfaction level for a six year period since Americans have been sharing their feelings with Gallup in 1979. So let's look at some of the reasons for the generally dismal attitudes of Americans over the past six years.
High unemployment: Beyond the headlines of improving unemployment is the increasing number of underemployed and those who have left the workforce altogether. The unemployment rate that includes part-timers wanting full-time work and those who have recently given up looking is still around 14%. John Williams at Shadowstats.com reports that using reporting methods from 20 years ago that the real unemployment rate is over 20%. It has been reported recently that just 50% of recent college graduates were in jobs requiring a college education. Among older workers a large segment of the population has simply left the workforce to due to disability, retirement, or inability to find suitable employment. The percentage of American men in the workforce is now the lowest that it's ever been, and the percentage of women in the workforce is now at its lowest point in twenty years. Any way you cut it, the employment situation in the U.S. does not appear robust.
High debt, especially high student loan debt. Credit card debt is still extremely high for many individuals. There have been recent stories how people are getting their credit cards under control because outstanding credit card debt levels have fallen (slightly) from a few years ago. What is usually not reported is that this mainly reflects involuntary liquidation of those debts by banks, usually when individuals default on their loans or declare bankruptcy. There was much of this in the early years of the recent recession, in 2008 and 2009. As we can all see from the amount of credit card solicitations we receive, the credit card business is alive and well. And millions of Americans still stand on the edge of financial collapse because of large amounts of high-interest credit card debt.
In addition, while the amount of credit card has declined slightly, that has been more than made up for with the addition of large amounts of "non-revolving" debt. These are things like auto loans and student loans, the latter of which has been growing quickly over the past six years. The chart below shows how the decline in credit card debt (revolving debt) has been more than offset with higher levels of non-revolving debt. Total consumer debt has risen by nearly $300 billion since the end of 2008. And since large amounts of consumer debt was one reason for the recession in the first place, it is very apparent that the past six years have done nothing to reduce the financial strain on the U.S. economy, and particularly, on individuals and families that suffer from draining debt.
Government debt. It's no secret that governments have been spending wildly the past six years, in this country and others. Their attitudes seem to be that any debt is good debt and any government spending is good spending. In 2008 total outstanding U.S. debt at the federal, state and local levels amounted to about $12 trillion. It's now crossing $20 trillion. Despite never having a say in the matter, today's schoolchildren will pick up much of this bill in the form of higher taxes and inflation, a legacy left to them by the willingness of their parent's and grandparent's generation to accept borrow-print-and-spend governments. And many of today's workers and consumers are also not amused by the high taxes and inflation that will come from these debts and deficits. Anyone with a sense of morality has to be disturbed about these debts and deficits and the direction they are leading this country.
Food stamps and welfare: While most Americans will support a system that protects the truly needy, a never-ending and growing welfare program puts more and more Americans at the mercy of other Americans. It was reported last year that over 100 million Americans are receiving some form of government welfare program from over 80 different government programs, not including Medicare or Social Security. Despite an economy that is supposedly growing the number of Americans on food stamps has nearly doubled over the past six years from about 26 million to nearly 48 million today (http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/34snapmonthly.htm) For an America that at its core embodies self-reliance and community-involvement, the rapid growth in such programs puts more Americans in the awkward position of being fleeced by others or doing the fleecing.
Which brings us to one of the most meaningful recent statistic on the reason for gloominess. It's government. A Gallup poll released in June said that just 10% had "a great deal of" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the Congress. Thirty-six percent said the same about the presidency and 34% said the same about the Supreme Court. And why would they? The government appears to have little trust or confidence in its own citizens to solve problems and lives at a different standard than the "peasants" it lords over. Nearly every problem the government sets out to "solve" becomes worse and the only thing Americans have to show for it are more taxes, inflation and debt.
So we have a population that has more and more government intervention into our economy with more and more regulations, continual market intervention, more government programs, a government that overspends by trillions of dollars each year, high taxes, with still high unemployment, high debt levels at all levels, and little economic growth to show for it. Is it that surprising that Americans are gloomy about their country?