How Did We Feel in 2009?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Excerpted from The Week Magazine

How are we feeling?
Not so hot. At year’s end, only 30% of U.S. voters think the country is heading in the right direction; that’s the lowest proportion since February, though it’s still 13 points higher than a year ago. 71% of voters say they are “very angry” or “somewhat angry” about the current state of national affairs (Rasmussen). Consumer confidence has fallen to a four-month low, and the proportion of Americans who say they are satisfied with their jobs dipped below 50%, with many citing job insecurity along with the lack of new job opportunities. Only 10% believe that now is a good time to find a quality job (Gallup).

What has been the recession’s toll?
It has changed the way many of us live. 90% of Americans say they are watching their spending more closely than ever, and 71% say they have cut back on how much they spend every week (Gallup). 62% are buying generic brands to save money; 36% are going to the hairdresser or barber less often; 29% have canceled one or more magazine subscriptions; 20% have cut down on dry cleaning; and 19% have stopped buying coffee each morning. 58% say they curtailed or canceled summer vacations this year, and 46% plan on spending less on Christmas (Harris).

What else do we worry about?
63% of Americans are concerned about the swine flu (Ipsos), but about the same number say they haven’t gotten the vaccine and don’t plan to (ABC News). Other issues that have kept us up at night (literally) include health care (cited by 8%), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (6%), and global warming (3%) (National Sleep Foundation). On the question of climate change, 42% believe that major lifestyle changes are needed to save the environment (Rasmussen). 63% say they have undertaken such “green’’ measures as recycling more and making their homes more energy-efficient. But only 16% ride a bicycle, carpool, or use public transportation. And those who believe that the release of carbon dioxide and other gases has led to global warming dropped to 51%, from 71% two years ago (Harris).

What keeps us going?
42% of Americans attend a house of worship nearly every week, and 65% say religion is important in their daily lives (Gallup). While we love our families, our pets are up there, too—58% of pet owners would be willing to perform “mouth to snout” resuscitation on their dog or cat in a medical emergency (Associated Press– And we love to eat, though despite the increasing prevalence of obesity, the proportion of Americans who describe themselves as overweight has dropped from 36% in 2004 to 30% this year (Ipsos). 29% of Americans drink alcohol at least once a week, while 6% admit to drinking daily (Harris). 42% of Americans have smoked marijuana at least once (World Health Organization). We also spend an increasing amount of our time texting one another. Americans on average now send and receive twice as many text messages as phone calls; teens send and receive an average of 1,742 text messages per month (Nielsen). More than a quarter of people ages 14 to 24 say they have engaged in “sexting”—electronically sharing sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves (Associated Press/MTV).

Is it all so bleak?
No. Despite the hard times, Americans have not lost their optimistic streak. 88% say that, on balance, they are “satisfied” with their lives, and 54% believe their personal situation will improve over the next five years (Harris). Among the millions who have lost their jobs, 22% say they appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with friends and family, 15% are fixing up their homes, and 14% say they are exercising more ( And while the widespread optimism that greeted the election of the first black president has waned, 40% of Americans say that Barack Obama’s presidency has improved race relations in the U.S., while 60% expect that race relations will improve in the years ahead (USA Today/Gallup). 95% of us say we are “proud to be an American”—close to the record-high 97% registered in the wake of 9/11 (Harris).


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