Americans are feeling more optimistic about their finances than in generations

An unusual large share of Americans say their finances are improving.
An unusual large share of Americans say their finances are improving.
Image: AP/Julio Cortez
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Americans think their finances are improving. According to a survey from Gallup, 59% of Americans say they are financially better off than they were a year ago. Twenty percent said they were worse off than a year ago, and 21% were about the same.

Gallup has been putting this question to US respondents on an almost annual basis since 1977—59% is the highest positive response rate it has ever recorded, just topping 58% in 1999.

In addition to asking about the past, Gallup also asks respondents to look to the future. In the most recent survey, 73% of respondents said they expect their finances to be better a year from now, also a record. Gallup surveys just over 1,000 people.

It makes sense that people are optimistic, at least in the short term. The unemployment rate is unusually low. Earning are rising for all workers, and particularly quickly for low-wage workers—in part because of higher minimum-wage laws in some cities and states. Most economists believe the likelihood of a recession in the coming year is low.

Yet not everybody is feeling the good vibes. While 76% of Republicans say they are better off today than a year ago, only 43% of Democrats agreed with that statement. People’s stated views of the economy and their personal finances tend to be better when a president of their preferred party is in office. In 2015, when Barack Obama was president, Democrats were far more likely to say they were better off.

Still, the overall data seems to be highly correlated with the state of the economy. After plummeting following the election of US president Donald Trump, the share of Democrats who say their financial situation is improving has grown. It’s the same among independents. The broadly positive state of the US economy could be a boon for Trump as the 2020 election goes into full swing.