As 2009 draws to a close, just 35% of Americans say their personal finances are in excellent (7%) or good shape (28%), while 63% say their finances are only fair (39%) or poor (24%). Measures of personal financial optimism and current evaluations have changed little in recent months. Still, a majority of Americans (53%) say they think their personal financial situation will improve a lot (9%) or some (44%) over the next year; 27% expect their finances to get worse. Opinions about whether the economy will improve over the next year have also changed little in recent months. In a December Pew Research survey, 42% say they expect economic conditions will be better a year from now; 39% said that a month ago. Optimism that economic conditions will improve reached a high for the year of 48% in June. Since last year, Pew Research surveys have consistently found that worry over future finances, rather than actual economic hardship, is a bigger factor in decisions to scale back spending. Currently, 30% of those who have changed spending habits say they have done so because their financial situation has gotten worse, while substantially more (49%) say they have cut back on spending because they worry their financial situation might get worse in the future. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.