JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the start of a new election-year series about the economic lives of Americans, the frustrations many face trying to get ahead, and the forces shaping the economy.
In many way, the recovery seems solid. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since the recession, and there’s been six consecutive years of job growth. But many Americans say they don’t feel it.
Our new multimedia series will explore why and how economic forces are affecting individuals, a joint project of the “NewsHour,” “Marketplace” and PBS’ “FRONTLINE.” We’re titling it How the Deck Is Stacked.
Kai Ryssdal is the host of Marketplace. And he will be working on this series with us. He joins us from Los Angeles tonight to discuss a new poll commissioned by Marketplace looking at these issues.
So, Kai, welcome.
You are going to be tackling something we have been trying to understand for a long time.
KAI RYSSDAL, Host & Senior Editor, Marketplace: Yes, we are.
You see people consistently rate the economy as the number one thing they’re worried about in this country. It tops even terrorism and national security in most recent polls from other organizations.
So, we wanted to know why. What is it about people’s individual economies that makes them say, this is the most important thing for us?
So, we went out with Edison Research, and we said to people, 1,000 people across the country, why? What is going on? What are you feeling in your own personal economy? And that’s what this poll is all about.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you start with some new numbers that quantify people’s attitudes.
There was a percentage there I found striking who say they are sometimes or frequently anxious about their financial situation.
KAI RYSSDAL: Two thirds of people in this country, 61 percent of people, say they are sometimes or frequently anxious about what’s going on in their lives.
And that’s a bunch of things, right? It’s making car payments. It’s their jobs. It’s where they see their future. It’s if they have got enough saved for retirement. They are not feeling the thing that the numbers, which you cited in the beginning, tell them they should feel.
Jobs are up. We have added a million jobs in this economy since the last time we went out in the field in September, and yet people aren’t feeling it. And that, to me, is the most interesting thing, that what’s going on here is not being widely shared down at the middle and bottom ranges of this economy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Kai, you also found that the anxiety is higher among African-Americans and among Hispanics.
KAI RYSSDAL: Right.
They’re the ones who have not saved for retirement. They use payday loans more. They see problems with their inheritances. All of these things that the rest of us are feeling sort of day in and day out — and I should say, by the way, that you have to separate the wealthiest part of this economy from the rest of it. Right?
But if you get down below the 1 percent, the 5 percent, there is deep economic stress, and African-Americans and Latinos are feeling that more acutely than anybody.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you asked a specific question about — that I found fascinating — about how people would handle an unexpected expense.
KAI RYSSDAL: Right.
So, we asked people, if you had an unexpected expense of $1,000 today, right now, would you be able to handle it? And we asked it because you can get $1,000 like that. You have a fender-bender, you trip on a curb, and there’s a thousand bucks.
And so we said, would you be able to make that payment? Fifty-nine percent of people said they would have difficulty making the payment. And more importantly, and really more troubling, is that fully half of that group said they have nowhere to turn for help. They don’t have a friend, they don’t have a relative that could help them out with $1,000.
And when you think about how easy it is in this economy today to turn around and be hit with a $1,000 bill for some kind of expense, that’s a big issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You also got some interesting results when you asked people about the role they feel Washington has played in all this, how angry they are specifically at the nation’s capital.
KAI RYSSDAL: There is some discontent.
I mean, and there are some racial and ethnic crosscurrents in there that you have to sort of parse out. But — and as you see out on the campaign trail today, nobody is very happy with it going — what’s going on in Washington. You see that in Democrats, and you see it in Republicans. You see it in independents.
People are not satisfied with what’s going on. But — and this is also really interesting — there is great support for a government safety net. People want the government. They just don’t want it the way it is right now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And that one, I know you are going to keep trying to understand.
But tell us a little bit, finally, Kai, where you are going to be going, what parts of the country and what kinds of questions you are going to be trying to understand.
KAI RYSSDAL: Right.
So what we’re going to do is, we’re going to go out with “FRONTLINE” and some folks from the “PBS NewsHour,” and we’re going to find the stories that tell the people side of this thing, right?
And I will give you an example. I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a number of months ago working for a Marketplace story. And we met a woman who is a Ph.D. student in material science at the University of Alabama, right? She’s a hard scientist. She is going to get a job in this new economy no matter what, right?
She’s working at a barbecue joint in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to make ends meet. She’s got $192,000 worth of debt. As I said, she’s going to get a job once she gets her degree.
But what she said — I said, how do you feel? What’s it like out there as you think about the future? And she said: “I’m scared. I’m scared.”
And so we’re going to find the stories that sort of pull that thread through, why people aren’t feeling good about what, according to the numbers, is a rising economy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are looking forward to the entire series, going to be working with you, talking to you throughout the rest of this election year and beyond.
Kai Ryssdal, thank you very much.
KAI RYSSDAL: You bet.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we want to hear more from you about where we should go and what issues you feel should be part of our series.
The series is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
You can go to our Web site, and you will see a place where you can give us your feedback on how the deck is stacked.