The Recession and Retirees

The Dow hit 10,000 this week for the first time in a year, but most people aren't celebrating. Concerns about the economy are deep, and they won't disappear any time soon. Perhaps surprisingly, one age group is weathering the storm better than others. Seniors, who have been in the news this week because of the announcement that there would be no cost of living adjustment for Social Security recipients this year, are experiencing a different recession than the rest of us.

Last month, 86% of those surveyed by CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation said the economy was in recession. Only 9% in the poll said that they and their families were better off than they were a year ago, while 39% said their families' personal financial situation was worse, and another 52% said it was about the same. When Gallup asked people about the possibility of an "economic crash" in the U.S. in the next year, six in 10 said they were worried.

More people than a month ago are telling pollsters the national economy has stabilized, but most don't see significant improvement, either nationally or in their local communities. In a new CBS News poll, 31% said the nation's economy was getting better, 18% worse and 50% staying about the same. But when asked about their local economies--something people are likely to know well--just 14% said they were improving, 30% said they were getting worse and 50% staying about the same. In six surveys this year, around two-thirds of those surveyed by GfK-Roper/Associated Press interviewers have said they or someone they know has lost a job in the past six months.

It is worth remembering that different generations experience things differently.

Barack Obama is not getting the blame for the state of the economy, but his ratings on handling it have declined nonetheless. In one question from a new Gfk-Roper/Associated Press poll, 20% said he deserved a lot or quite a bit of the blame. In a separate question, 54% thought George W. Bush did. In February, 59% of those polled approved of the job Obama was doing handling the economy; that response is now 46%.

President Obama has also lost significant ground on handling the deficit. Just 38% in a September Gallup poll approved of the way he is dealing with it, while 58% disapproved. This was his lowest mark on seven different issues Gallup tested.

According to a report from the Pew Research Center earlier this year, seniors "have escaped the full fury of the recession." In the poll, 68% of 18- to 64-year-olds said they had cut back their spending in the past year, while only 36% of seniors had. Twenty-two percent of the 18- to 64-year-old group said they had trouble getting or affording health care, while 7% of seniors (most of whom have Medicare) said they had. Twenty-three percent of the 18- to 64-year-old group had had problems paying their rent or mortgage; only 8% of those 65 and older had.

When the poll asked about specific spending, the differences between the 18- 64-year-old group and those 65 and older were substantial. Sixty percent of the younger group had bought less-expensive brands; 43% of those 65 and older had. Nearly one-fourth of the younger group had reduced or canceled cable or satellite TV service; only 10% of seniors had. While 52% of the younger group said the recession had caused stress in their families, 38% of seniors said the same.

No one thinks people over 65 living on fixed incomes are on easy street, and the responses above probably reflect the fact that many seniors have already downsized their lifestyles and adjusted their expectations accordingly. But it is worth remembering that different generations experience things differently.

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at AEI.

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