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Economic optimism grows

In poll, outlook better for self, worse for nation

– Americans are feeling more secure about their own finances with stock and home values rising, even as a growing number say the country is headed down the wrong track, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

People are more upbeat about a range of financial issues – job security, retirement savings, home values and household income – than they were in February, the last time Bloomberg asked the question. Eight measures of financial well-being surveyed show increasing optimism among poll respondents.

“The economy is doing a lot better,” Nancy Bush, 56, of San Francisco, said in a follow-up interview. “I feel very encouraged, and maybe it’s just a gut feeling, but I think we’ve made it through a four- or five-year recovery.”

Four years to the month after the deepest recession since the 1930s ended, many Americans agree, according to the poll, taken May 31 to June 3. Large majorities say they don’t expect to draw down their savings or borrow money this year to help make ends meet.

“It’s been a tough four or five years,” says Holly Daniel, 58, owner with her husband of a sheet metal shop in Durango, Colo. “But we’re seeing an uptick in business, which is very exciting.”

Daniel says this is “the first time in six years, since the housing bubble burst,” that she and her husband are in good shape financially. After seeing their annual disposable income drop to less than $20,000 from $50,000, they’ve recovered.

Poll respondents are less sanguine about the national outlook. Asked about events in the U.S., 60 percent say the country is on the wrong track, while just 32 percent say things are headed in the right direction.

That’s the highest percentage saying “wrong track” since September, and it comes amid continued concern about such issues as health care costs and the national debt, even though the U.S. deficit so far this fiscal year is one-third smaller than during the same period last year.

“When you’re ignoring the debt and not addressing employment, then you’re on the wrong track,” says Joseph Lamancusa, 52, a neurologist in Findlay, Ohio. “All discussion should be about jobs and nothing about illegal immigration.”

In the poll, 65 percent say they expect the country’s debt burden to worsen over the next 12 months, up from 56 percent who said that in February.

The 7.5 percent jobless rate has come down from 7.9 percent in January, yet it remains above the 20-year average of 6 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. And the share of Americans age 16 and over who are employed, 58.6 percent, is well below the 63.4 percent pre-crisis peak in 2006.

Still, by a margin of 35 percent to 11 percent, those surveyed say they expect their personal financial security to improve over the next year. An additional 48 percent say they anticipate no change.

Bush, who is taking a break from her career to raise her children, says she believes an era of roller-coaster economics has given way to a more stable environment. And the former finance and real estate professional says she sees an improving labor market.

The U.S. has created an average of 196,000 jobs a month this year, government data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“I feel like work’s out there and I can get a job if I need to or want to,” Bush says.

Forty-two percent of poll respondents say they expect job growth to pick up over the next 12 months, while 22 percent expect it to decline. An additional 34 percent say employment will remain about the same.

The poll of 1,002 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.