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Americans pessimistic about country's future: survey

Americans pessimistic about country's future: survey
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A majority of Americans in a new poll said they believe the country is headed for a dark future in which the middle class shrinks, the economy suffers and life becomes more difficult for children, families and the elderly.

The survey from the Pew Research Center shows that, on the surface, hope springs eternal for the American public, 56 percent of whom say they are very or somewhat optimistic about the future of the country.

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But below the surface, the study, released Wednesday, paints a picture of a deeply pessimistic country, one that sees partisanship and the gap between rich and poor on the rise, and morality and quality of life on the decline.

That pessimistic outlook comes as the number of Americans who say the country is headed off on the wrong track rises steadily, even with a booming economy, record-low unemployment and rising wages.

While Americans seem to maintain an optimistic outlook about the future in general, there is almost no area where optimism overcomes pessimism when they are asked to forecast the state of the nation in 2050.

More than half of Americans, 54 percent, say the country's economy will be weaker in 30 years than it is today. Almost three-quarters say the gap between the rich and the poor will grow, and nearly half of Americans say the middle class is likely to decrease.

Half say American children and older Americans will have a lower standard of living in the future than they do today. Forty-four percent say the average family's standard of living will be worse in 2050 than it is today, twice the number -- 20 percent -- who say it will be better.

"Majorities predict that the economy will be weaker, health care will be less affordable, the condition of the environment will be worse and older Americans will have a harder time making ends meet than they do now," the authors wrote.

Three in five voters say the United States will be less important in world affairs than the nation is today, twice the number who say the country will be more important to the world order. Whites, Democrats and those with higher levels of education are most likely to foresee American influence waning, while Republicans and minorities are most likely to say the country's influence will grow.

And more than three-quarters say they are very or fairly worried about the nation's moral health. Nearly half of Republicans and more than a third of Democrats say they are very worried about the degradation of American moral values.

Perhaps most troubling, Americans are deeply pessimistic about the country's political future, and whether the country's political leaders can overcome the challenges ahead.

Majorities in both parties said they believe the country is likely to be more divided in the future than it is today, a moment of historic division and rank partisanship. Nearly half, 49 percent, say they are very worried about the way government works in Washington, and 48 percent say they are very worried about the ability of political leaders to solve the country's biggest problems.

In fact, partisans on the left and the right do not even agree what those biggest problems are. Asked what issues should be top federal government priorities to improve the lives of future generations, Republicans are most likely to point to threats posed by undocumented immigrants, the national debt and rising taxes. Democrats are most likely to cite climate change, the gaps between the rich and the poor and the prospects of entitlement spending.

Partisans on both sides agree that providing high-quality and affordable health care and increasing spending on education should be top priorities for the federal government.

The threat of climate change stands as an illustration of the divide between the two parties. More than three in five Democrats say they are very worried about the impacts of climate change, while just 15 percent of Republicans said the same.

Americans are no more hopeful for the state of their own relations with each other. More than a third of Americans, 38 percent -- including 46 percent of whites -- say having a majority of the population made up of blacks, Asians, Hispanics and other racial minorities by the year 2050 will weaken American customs and values. Just 30 percent say a majority-minority population will strengthen American customs and values.

Nearly half, 49 percent, say the country's changing demographics will lead to more conflicts between racial and ethnic groups.