Country's faith in economy falls as inauguration nears

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Just as the Bush administration prepares to take charge, anxiety is on the rise among Americans about the state of their nation's economy, an Associated Press poll suggests.

Their faith has waned that their own finances will be better in a year's time and that investing large sums in the stock market is a good idea.

n Only a third of Americans expect their family finances to be better in a year, said the AP poll. Last spring more than half felt that way.

n More than half say if they had a thousand dollars, it would be a bad idea to put it in the stock market. A strong majority said in a poll last spring that they would invest the money in stocks, and the number dropped progressively through the year.

By a 57-39 margin, women now feel that investing the money in stocks would be a bad idea, while men remain about evenly split, according to the AP survey conducted by ICR of Media, Pa.

''No way, things are too shaky,'' said Delores Sapeta, a 72-year-old retiree from Middletown, in north-central California.

''I might have been willing to invest it maybe a year or two ago,'' said Charles Odom, a 32-year-old paint contractor from North Wilkesboro in western North Carolina. ''Now the market goes up, then it drops right back down.''

Just over two in 10 Americans have a lot of confidence in Bush's ability to deal with the economy, the poll indicated, while just over four in 10 have some confidence and almost three in 10 have no real confidence. That's similar to the public's confidence in President-elect Clinton eight years ago.

The confidence shown in Bush's ability to handle the economy closely follows partisan lines. Just over half the Republicans said they have a lot of confidence in Bush on the economy, while almost half the Democrats had none.

Just under a fourth of independents said they have a lot of confidence, half said they have some confidence and a fourth said they have no confidence in Bush to handle the economy.

Economic reports that could cause nervousness have been mounting:

Retailers just announced they had their weakest holiday sales in a decade.

Worries about future job growth and the economy pushed consumer confidence in December to its lowest level in two years.

The Federal Reserve unexpectedly lowered a key interest rate this month.

Those developments have not gone unnoticed by the public.

''It looks like my family finances are going to be worse in a year,'' said Kimberly Armstrong, a 25-year-old mother of two from Louisville, Ky. ''I get that feeling from the news reports, from technology stocks going down.''

Entering this uncertain economic climate will be Bush, who has cautioned several times that he's seen signs of economic trouble on the horizon.

As he prepares for the presidency, just over half in this poll, 52 percent, said they approve of the way he's handling the transition, while about a third, 31 percent, said they do not approve. That's slightly lower than the two-thirds of Americans who approved of President-elect Clinton's transition at a similar point eight years ago.

''In the sense that he seems to be picking people, with a couple of exceptions, who are qualified to take the Cabinet positions, I think he's doing a fairly good job in the transition,'' said Cliff Reynolds, a 53-year-old high school science teacher from Parker, Colo., just southeast of Denver.

A plurality in the poll, 46 percent, said they felt the country is on the wrong track, while 41 percent said it is headed in the right direction. Late last year, the situation was about reversed.

Republicans felt the country was going in the right direction by a 2-1 margin, Democrats felt at least as strongly that it was on the wrong track. Only 38 percent of independents felt the country was headed in the right direction, with 47 percent saying it was on the wrong track.

That public response can reflect varying concerns, from anxiety about the country's economic health, to troubles overseas to the moral direction of the country.

Armstrong, the Louisville mother of two, said having young children influences her concern that the country is not on track.

''Things are definitely headed in the wrong direction, morally speaking,'' she said. ''Things are just out of control.''

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