Most Americans feel left behind in economic recovery, poll shows

Job security, health care costs and paying the bills top the list of Americans’ concerns, a new Al Jazeera poll shows

The threat of joblessness tops the list of concerns facing American households, according to a new Al Jazeera America/Monmouth University poll. When asked to describe the biggest concern facing their family, 16 percent of poll respondents said either job security or unemployment. The second-most-cited concern was health care costs, followed by everyday bills.

Just 1 percent of respondents cited immigration or terrorism as their primary concerns.

Although the economy has improved since the Great Recession and unemployment has declined to 5.6 percent, wages for most workers have remained stagnant for decades. The results of the poll suggest that many Americans still feel deep anxiety over their job prospects and the state of their finances.

Among people earning less than $25,000 per year, common expenses such as rent, utilities and phone service were by far the biggest concern, with 26 percent of respondents in that income bracket citing everyday bills as their foremost issue. 

Very few people felt that the federal government made a positive difference when it came to their foremost concerns. Nearly half — 47 percent — of respondents said the government’s actions hurt them when it came to their top concern, while just 14 percent said the government helped; 38 percent said the government hadn’t made any real impact.

A substantial majority of Americans told pollsters that wealthy campaign donors exert too much power over Congress. That majority is bipartisan: 71 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of independents and 77 percent of Democrats agreed that the rich hold too much influence on Capitol Hill. Even the wealthy themselves believe that, with 78 percent of respondents earning more than $100,000 annually agreeing with that statement.

Some recent political science research has lent credence to this impression. A 2014 study by academics at Princeton University and Northwestern University found that Americans with average incomes have little to no influence over public policymaking, suggesting that modern America may function like something close to an oligarchy.

The Al Jazeera America/Monmouth University poll was conducted by telephone from Jan. 13 to 15, 2015, with 1,003 adults in the United States. This sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Biggest issues at home

What is the biggest concern facing your family right now?

Source: Survey conducted Jan. 13–15, 2015, by Al Jazeera and Monmouth University Polling Institute.

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