The nation's global competitiveness also receives reasonable grades, with 31 percent calling it excellent or good, 37 percent fair, and 26 percent poor.
Assessments darken further on the job situation: 28 percent term it excellent or good, 33 percent fair, and 35 percent poor. But the clouds really roll in on the final two measures. Asked to assess the state of wages and incomes, only 20 percent describe them as excellent or good, 39 percent fair, and 37 percent poor. Similarly, only 19 percent give those excellent/good marks to "the cost of living for necessities like housing, food and energy," while 40 percent describes them as fair and 39 percent poor.
Disenchantment on jobs, wages, and living costs transcend almost all boundaries. The share of minorities, college-educated, and noncollege whites who describe the job situation as excellent or good converges between 25 and 29 percent; those earning six figures are barely more favorable than those earning less than $30,000. There is similarly broad-based discontent over wages and living costs: Among respondents earning at least $100,000 or more and college-educated whites, two groups at the top of the economic pyramid, still only one in five rate the wage and income situation as good or excellent. Only about one in four in both groups describe the cost of living situation as excellent or good.
Follow-up interviews with poll respondents underscored a deep frustration over the protracted difficulty in getting ahead. Bentley, the Kentucky Republican, recently left her job as a nursing educator to stay at home with her children, because, she says, the economics of working didn't add up. "I have a master's degree in nursing and I only clear $400 a month to bring home to my family," she says. "For me to commute, pay childcare—which is horrendous—and then all of the expenses that go along with actually leaving the home, I don't clear enough to make it worth it. I went to college, I have student loans, and I have to try to pay for it, but it's still not worth it."
Similarly, Donna Blight, an attorney in Williamstown, Vt., says she sees few people around her gaining ground. "There haven't been increases in income," she says. "My son-in-law works for a big company, he's been there for 20-plus years, but there are not consistent raises. I have another family member who has worked for somebody for eight years and never got a raise. That's the way it is here."
While the disenchantment over wages and living standards was broadly based, one group stood out in its especially stark level of discontent: white women without a college education. Just 10 percent of those women, who are often described as "waitress moms," described the situation in wages or the cost of living as excellent or good. On each measure, just over one-third described conditions as only fair and about half picked the most negative option—poor. By contrast, no more than about 40 percent of either college-educated whites or noncollege white men picked the most negative option on either measure.