Despite their far higher and longer-lasting record of unemployment, Depression-era Americans remained hopeful for the future. Half (50%) expected general business conditions to improve over the next six months, while only 29% expected a worsening. And fully 60% thought that opportunities for getting ahead were better (45%) or at least as good (15%) as in their father’s day. Today’s public is far gloomier about the economic outlook: Only 35% in an October Pew Research Center survey expected better economic conditions by October 2011, while 16% expected a still weaker economy. The Reagan-era recession found the public somewhat more hopeful than at present, but less optimistic than in the 1930s. In November 1982, with unemployment at its recession peak of nearly 11%, Americans believed their personal financial situation would improve over the next year by a 41%-to-22% margin. However, the most striking difference between the 1930s and the present day is that, by the standards of today’s political parlance, average Americans of the mid-1930s revealed downright “socialistic” tendencies in many of their views about the proper role of government. Read More

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