The public’s views of national economic conditions are broadly negative. Nearly nine-in-ten call conditions either only fair (45%) or poor (42%), and just 12% describe them as excellent or good. While negative on balance, national economic ratings have shown modest signs of improvement.

A year ago, 53% rated economic conditions as poor. The percentage saying the economy was in poor shape declined in the summer (43% in June). But in October, 54% rated economic conditions as poor. That percentage fell to 45% in December and 42% currently. The percentage calling conditions poor is now at its lowest point since January 2008.

The number rating the economy as poor has declined across most demographic and political groups since October. There continues to be a wide partisan gap in views of the economy: 51% of Republicans currently say national economic conditions are poor, compared with 43% of independents and 36% of Democrats.

More Say Recovery is Underway

While economic ratings remain mostly negative, the public’s outlook continues to improve. In the current survey, more than half (57%) say the economy is now recovering (24%) or that it is not yet recovering but will soon (33%). About four-in-ten (42%) say it will be a long time before the economy recovers.

The percentage saying the economy is recovering has climbed seven points since December and is up 14 points since September. Over the same time period, the percentage saying it will be a long time before the economy recovers has declined from 52% in September to 42% in the current survey.

Since September, there have been sharp increases in the percentages of people with higher incomes and college graduates who say the economy is recovering. Nearly a third in each group now say the economy is recovering (31% of those with family incomes of $75,000 or more, 30% of college graduates). In September, just 12% of higher income people and 10% of college graduates said the economy was recovering. Among people with lower incomes and less education, increases have been somewhat smaller.

All political groups have become more optimistic about an economic recovery since September. However, more Democrats (30%) than Republicans (18%) and independents (23%) say the economy is in recovery.

Public Hearing Mixed Economic News

The improved outlook on economic recovery mirrors what Americans say they are seeing and hearing in the news these days. Since December, there has been an increase in the number hearing a mix of good and bad news about the economy, according to the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index survey.

The survey found the number of those hearing a mix of economic news increased from 55% in December to 64% in February. There was also a 10-point drop in those hearing mostly bad news (39% in December, 29% in February). However, only a small minority (6%) say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy. (For more on this poll, including what people are hearing about specific segments of the economy, click here.)

Recession Hurt Most, But One-In-Four Feeling Better

In evaluating the effect of the recession on their own personal financial situation, only a minority (37%) say it did not have a major effect on them, while 61% say it did. Most who were affected – 36% of Americans overall – say their financial situation has yet to recover. But a significant minority – 25% of the public – say that while the economy had a major effect on their finances, they have mostly recovered.

The continuing toll of the recession on personal finances is most notable among the less affluent and educated. Roughly half (49%) of people with family incomes of $30,000 or less say they have not yet recovered from the effect of the recession, 18% have recovered from the impact, and 31% say they were not affected in a major way. These contrast with the views among those with incomes of $75,000 or more; about half of this group (48%) say the recession did not have a major effect on their finances and only 19% say they have not yet recovered.

Both younger and older Americans are more likely to say they escaped the effects of the recession – 44% of those under 30 and those 65 and older say it did not have a major effect on them, compared with 33% of those ages 30 to 64. Instead, people in their prime working years are the most likely to say their finances have not yet recovered from the recession’s impact.