New USA Today/Wells Fargo research suggests Americans are feeling better about their own finances and local economies than the U.S. economy overall.
New USA Today/Wells Fargo research suggests Americans are feeling better about their own finances and local economies than the U.S. economy overall.
Financial Health
April 18, 2016

Americans: Economy is greener on my side of the fence

New USA Today/Wells Fargo research suggests U.S. residents are feeling better about their own finances and local economies than the U.S. economy overall.

Many Americans see greener grass on their side of the fence — at least when it comes to the economy.

Seven years after the end of the Great Recession, new USA Today/Wells Fargo research shows Americans think economic conditions in their communities are better than in the U.S. overall. In fact, 43 percent say their local economy is healthy, whereas 28 percent say the same for the national economy.  Wells Fargo Senior Economist Mark Vitner says perspective makes all the difference.

New USA Today/Wells Fargo research suggests Americans are feeling better

“National economic stories tend to have a broader scope and don’t include as many regional stories about local companies relocating or expanding,” Vitner says. “Economic improvement at the local level is more tangible for members of a particular community. You can see it. The restaurants are busier, the traffic is heavier, the cranes are building new apartments. With the national statistics and particularly this slow economic recovery, it’s very hard to see improvement from month to month.”

Plus, Vitner adds, there’s little that people on Main Street can do about the trade deficit and other factors affecting the economy on a macro level. “Unless it directly affects you,” he says, “you don’t really think much about it.”

The survey results come from an online Ipsos poll for Wells Fargo and USA Today taken Feb. 4–11, 2016, of 2,511 adults age 18 and older. It marks the second year of Wells Fargo’s collaboration with USA Today to explore perceptions of “The Real Economy.”

Personal finances and future outlook

Reviewing the 2016 Real Economy data, Vitner says it’s obvious U.S. residents are making some gains in their personal finances — saving more and benefiting from the rebound in home prices — while keeping a level head about economic realities.

Many Americans see current economic conditions as about the same as they were last year when it comes to the U.S. as a whole (45 percent), their own communities (60 percent), and their personal finances (47 percent).

Nearly half of Americans see their personal finances as good (46 percent), compared to 33 percent as fair and 21 percent as poor.

Looking ahead a year from now, Americans are most likely to predict that their personal situation will improve. Two in five Americans (43 percent) expect better personal finances in a year, compared to 29 percent who expect better economic conditions for the U.S. overall and 27 percent who expect better economic conditions in their communities. Roughly half of Americans expect economic conditions to stay the same nationally (47 percent), in their communities (59 percent), and with regard to their personal finances (45 percent) in the next year.

New USA Today/Wells Fargo research suggests Americans are feeling better

Strengthening opportunity

Health care costs, difficulty saving enough for retirement, and the lack of good jobs were cited above other factors as the biggest obstacles to personal financial success.

When it comes to the health of the national economy, respondents cite a growing job market as being most important (74 percent), followed closely by reasonable cost-of-living expenses (71 percent), financial security in retirement (71 percent), an education system that prepares a skilled workforce (70 percent), and opportunities for young people to enjoy a bright future (70 percent).

Seven in 10 Americans rated five key factors as important to the national economy.

And although there’s no secret sauce for economic success on Main Street, Vitner says one thing is clear from his travels and the findings from the economics reports his group, Wells Fargo Securities Economics, creates.

“Communities that have invested in schools, parks, greenways, business development, transportation, and other infrastructure to make themselves more attractive places to live and work are more apt to do well,” he says. “Communities that aren’t doing those things have had a much harder time bouncing back.”

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