Below is a complimentary Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

Americans' Pessimism Soars - 03.31.2020 the worst is behind us cartoon

American pessimism is hitting new heights. Not only are people worried about their children’s future, but they are also stressed about their immediate financial situation. (The Wall Street Journal)

According to a new WSJ/NORC survey, 78% of adults don't feel confident that their children's lives will be better than their own. That's a rise of +11 percentage points since 2019 and marks the highest reading ever recorded since this question was first asked in 1990. 

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Moreover, 30% admit they are "not too happy" in their lives. That's a rise of +6 percentage points since 2021 and marks yet another record high. To be sure, Americans are generally a lot happier with their own personal and family lives than they are about the prospects for their nation. But the recent pandemic has been harrowing at all levels.

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The survey also found that a plurality of Americans (44%) say their finances are worse than they expected at the current stage in their lives. When asked about which costs worry them most, 41% cited health care, 43% housing and 65% inflation. 

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Over the past few years, we have written several NewsWires on Americans’ growing pessimism. (See "Global Outlook on Children's Financial Future Worsens" and "American Patriotism Dips to a New Low.”) This is undoubtedly a response to the numerous negative trends bombarding the country: mounting overdoses, declining life expectancy, falling real earnings, ebbing trust in democracy, rumors of war and a growing share of younger adults unable to afford to buy a home and of older adults unable to retire.

In today's economy, finding a job is not a big problem. But finding a job that offers you a path to a better world than your parents had – or a better world for your child than you had – well, that does seem to be a big problem.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations – who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.