Unemployment overtakes political gridlock as America’s biggest worry

BY Simone Pathe  February 17, 2014 at 6:48 PM EST

Job seekers wait in line at an employment fair in California. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Job seekers wait in line at an employment fair in California. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Unemployment and the economy are the biggest problems facing the United States, according to a Gallup Poll released Monday. Nearly a quarter of Americans cite unemployment as the country’s biggest concern in the February poll, up from 16 percent in January.

For a brief stretch since the government shutdown last fall, government and politicians had overtaken the economy as Americans’ chief concern in the monthly survey.

That unemployment has regained the lead is not unusual. Before October 2013, either unemployment (jobs) or the economy has been leading since February 2008.

Nearly one in four Americans identifies unemployment as America's biggest problem, according to Monday's Gallup Poll.

Nearly one in four Americans identifies unemployment as America’s biggest problem, according to Monday’s Gallup Poll.

Mentions of unemployment suggest the labor market hasn’t delivered on publicized expectations. Economists predicted January would add 180,000 jobs. The addition of 113,000 jobs was greeted with headlines of disappointment earlier this month.

The number of long-term unemployed Americans, meanwhile, — those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more — persists at nearly 4 million, with little relief in sight. The latest attempt to extend unemployment benefits failed in the Senate without enough Republican votes.

The largest increase in mentions of unemployment as the biggest problem in America came from Republicans: 24 percent now identify unemployment as the leading concern, up from 11 percent in January.

Both houses of Congress passed a debt limit bill this month, authorizing the Treasury to borrow money through March 2015. But final passage of the bill happened after the survey was conducted from Feb. 6-9, and concern for the federal budget deficit and debt remained at 8 percent.

Concern over health care also stayed roughly the same as in January, with 15 percent ranking it the biggest problem.