According to the latest numbers from the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate is 5.3%, the lowest it’s been in seven years. During the recession’s peak in October 2009, unemployment reached 10% — almost twice as much as today. So then, why is it that most Americans are still pessimistic when it comes to the economy?
Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index, which rates Americans confidence in the economy on a scale from -100 to 100+, reported a -11 weekly average ending July 5. That’s the lowest weekly score Gallup has recorded since November.
There are many factors that may account for this lack of confidence. Although the economy added a healthy 223,000 jobs last month, wages have remained essentially flat and overall economic growth has remained weak. Plus, the decrease in unemployment is partly due to many workers opting out of the work force. With so much uncertainty surrounding jobs and wages, it’s no wonder that Americans are holding their applause (and their wallets).
But there’s still a lot to feel good about. Many industries are experiencing robust growth including healthcare, education, construction and professional services. While hiring in low-wage sectors such as retailing and restaurants is sluggish, white-collar jobs are seeing an uptick in hiring. And workers with STEM degrees are especially desirable. In some cases, there aren’t even enough workers to fill all of the available STEM jobs in this country.
This is great news for workers with degrees and college students who have the flexibility and time to alter the trajectory of their career. The jobs are there; you just need the right credentials and experience to get them. For skilled laborers and blue-collar workers in other industries, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic as well.
It stands to reason that as long as skepticism about the economy prevails, despite economic indicators to the contrary, consumer spending will remain stagnant and with it, blue collar jobs. Therefore, the real challenge lies in changing people’s perception about the economy. According to a recent poll by The Economist and YouGov, a total of 83% of respondents described the national unemployment problem as “very serious” or “somewhat serious.” In the same poll, only 53% were aware that the unemployment rate has declined significantly since President Obama first took office in 2009.
This suggests that a general lack of awareness might be fueling the economy’s slow recovery. Not that things would automatically turn around if more Americans were aware of the jobs numbers, but it could certainly help. Old habits are hard to break, and the economy has had too many false starts since the Great Recession ended. But low or decreasing unemployment is still the best indicator of our nation’s economic health, even if it’s not the only one. And although you might not feel confident to make a down payment on a house or go on a luxury vacation just yet, there’s plenty of reason to feel good about your career prospects. In due time, the rest will follow.