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ECONOMY WATCH : That Uneasy Feeling

Despite an improving national economy and rising employment, Americans are anxious and insecure about their livelihoods. A new poll, taken against the backdrop of the big Republican push to cut government spending, finds Americans increasingly worried about their financial future. These insecurities gnaw at public confidence at a time when we should be feeling more hopeful.

The reasons for the growing economic anxiety, according to the nationwide survey conducted in late October by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, are the rising cost of health care, stagnating wages despite economic growth, high taxes, crime and a political system perceived as ineffective.

The big uncertainty is whether Americans can earn enough to help put the kids through college, keep themselves and their children healthy and still save enough for their retirement. Although inflation is largely in check, the costs of higher education and health care can take a bigger bite out of household budgets. Meanwhile, there has been little growth in real wages, with paychecks not nearly increasing fast enough to enable people to significantly improve their standard of living. The public is further worried that the GOP effort to reform Medicare and to balance the federal budget will mean even higher costs for families.

This contemporary discontent was reflected in the 1992 election of President Clinton and then, two years later, in the Republican takeover of Congress. What no poll can predict is how it might manifested itself next.

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