Most say economy getting worse (USA Today)

Poll finds high rates of unease

WASHINGTON— More than three-fourths of Americans (78%) say economic conditions are getting worse, the highest reading since the Gallup Organization started polling on the question in 1991, according to a Gallup survey released Monday.

Overall, 20% of Americans are satisfied with the direction of the country, the most dismal reading since May 1992, according to the Gallup survey of 1,014 adults conducted from Nov 11-14.

The Gallup numbers track other gauges of consumer and business confidence, which have been falling in recent weeks as Americans have been buffeted by falling home sales, a falling dollar, rising energy prices, a credit crunch and turmoil in stock markets.

The Gallup poll numbers indicate that although the unemployment rate in October was a low 4.7%, conditions feel increasingly lousy.

Fully 31% of those responding to the poll said economic concerns are the top problem for the country, up from 22% in the previous Oct 4-7 poll. Only 2% called economic conditions excellent, 25% good and 72% called the outlook only fair or poor. The poll has a margin of error of plus orminus 3%.

The falling figures could have political, economic, ramifications.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who is also economic adviser to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, says economic concerns are already being heard on the campaign trail in the form of questions about health care and trade.

"Both of (those) are linked into benefits and jobs and the capacity of this economy to compete," HoltzEakin says. "It's been there. If the economy slows further, and we know it's already growing slowly, the issueswill becomemore prominent."

The Gallup data are also backed by a forecast released Monday from 50 leading business economists, who expect growth to slow significantly in coming months and inflation to tick up.

The median forecast of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) is that the economy will whistle past a recession, with growth slowing to an anemic 1.5% annual rate through the end of this year— comparedwithanearly4% pace in the thirdquarter.

The economy is expected to speed up to amore respectable 2.6% rate in 2008, moving up to a solid 3% by year's end. NABE economists say the housing crash is turning out to be even worse than expected, but increased exports — helped by the falling value of the dollar against other currencies — will offset some of that loss.

Most of the forecasters put the odds of a recession in the next year at less than 33%, but a fifth see the risks atmore than 50%.

The forecast also assumes the Federal Reserve will not cut its key short-term interest rate.