In the global race for jobs and economic prosperity, the United States is No. 2. And it is likely to remain there for some time. That's the glum conclusion of most Americans surveyed in the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. Henry Luce famously labeled the 20th century the "American Century." This survey suggests that most Americans now doubt that this new century will bear that name.
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In the poll, only one in five Americans said that the U.S. economy is the world's strongest--nearly half picked China instead. Looking forward, Americans are somewhat more optimistic about regaining primacy, but still only about one in three expect the U.S. economy to be the world's strongest in 20 years. Nearly three-fifths of those surveyed said that increasing competition from lower-paid workers around the world will keep living standards for average Americans from growing as fast as they did in the past. Ruben Owen, a retired Boeing engineer in Seattle who responded to the survey, spoke for many when he said, "We're still in a reasonably good place ... but it's going to get harder because other places are growing stronger."
Across a wide range of issues, the poll found the traditional American instinct toward optimism straining against fears that the nation's economic struggles may extend far beyond the current slowdown. On many fronts, particularly the quality of higher education and scientific research, large majorities of Americans still believe that we lead the world. And most say that the U.S. can remain a manufacturing leader.
But the survey reveals deep anxiety about the impact on the American economy of increased globalization; the decades-long shift in domestic employment from manufacturing toward services; the quality of decisions by government and business leaders; and the economic prospects for younger generations.
In follow-up conversations, several of those polled struggled to maintain hope that their children will live better than they have, against growing unease that it won't turn out that way. "I would like to say yes," said Dana Rigby, a homemaker in Kirksville, Mo., when asked if she expected her children's living standards to exceed her own. "I'm trying to get my kids on the right path; who doesn't want that? But I don't know if there's going to be enough out there for all the young kids to have good jobs."