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Age of anxiety

Six and a half years after the Great Recession officially ended and almost as long since the economy resumed adding jobs, the Federal Reserve this week raised interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

Most Fed watchers had decided a rate hike was a foregone conclusion after the Dec. 4 release of the November jobs report, which showed a solid gain of 211,000 jobs. At the same time, the government delivered an upwardly revised total for October of nearly 300,000 new jobs.

These numbers, combined with an unemployment rate of 5 percent—the lowest level since spring 2008—are clear indicators of a healthy economy, the Fed concluded.

Yet for many Americans, it is an economy they don’t recognize. A recent survey conducted by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute revealed an anxious populace that’s increasingly pessimistic about its economic prospects.

Of the 2,695 people who took part in the annual American Values Survey, nearly three-quarters said the recession has not ended—no matter what the data say.

Nearly half—49 percent—said the country’s best days are behind it.

Roughly two-thirds of the survey respondents think burdensome government regulations are partly responsible for the nation’s economic ills. But even more blame business—86 percent cited jobs shipped overseas and 77 percent pointed to companies that refuse to pay a fair wage.

Indeed, the survey found 79 percent of Americans think our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, up from 66 percent only three years ago.

Another recent survey, the Marketplace-Edison Research poll, also found considerable economic anxiety but more long-term optimism. Seventy-two percent of respondents to that poll believe in the value of hard work and think they have a fair opportunity to achieve the life they hope for.

Nonetheless, it seems clear that businesses need to do more to show their employees and others that free enterprise can work for all and, even with its flaws, remains the best path to prosperity.

12/18/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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