WASHINGTON — The economy trudges ahead, yet debt dogs many Americans, stressing them out even as they firm up their own financial foundations, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.
About 46 percent of those surveyed say they're suffering from debt-related stress, and half of that group described their stress as "great deal" or "quite a bit." On the other hand, about 53 percent say they feel little or no stress.
That's in line with findings from last year, even though times seem better today: The economy is growing and generating jobs, and households have made progress in repairing their financial footing, trimming debt, watching spending and saving more.
So why aren't the stressed — and the not-so-stressed — feeling better? For starters, it just doesn't feel much like a recovery to many people.
Unemployment is stubbornly high — 9.9 percent. The jobless face fierce competition for work. Those with a job are watching their paychecks shrink.
A growing number of people are at risk of falling into foreclosure, and only those with the most stellar credit probably can get a new loan. AP-GfK polls show that only 20 percent say the economy is good, compared with 15 percent last year.
Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, a research group that keeps close tabs on consumers, says it's people's individual circumstances — more so than their sentiment about the economy — that shape their confidence and their stress over debt. "It's about what happens to me — my house, my car, my job," he says.
A Debt Stress Index tied to the AP-GfK poll was 29.2 in May, unchanged from a year earlier. The reading signals moderately low stress.