Donald Lambro

In a larger context, the "U.S. household sector is showing rapid growth in most types of savings. At $29.1 trillion, U.S. households have more net financial assets than the rest of the world combined," said Bear Stearns' chief economist David Malpass.

"In the first quarter, U.S. household net worth (assets less liabilities) rose to $56.2 trillion. Household liquid assets (deposits, credit market instruments, equities, mutual funds) totaled $21 trillion, a new record and up from the fourth quarter's $20.7 trillion," he said.

"The multi-decade accumulation in U.S. household assets and savings is a key factor in the economy's sturdiness and strong long-term prospects," he added in a recent analysis for Wall Street clients.

Malpass expects economic growth to turn upward, after the first-quarter decline, perhaps closer to 3 percent, and unemployment (now at a low 4.5 percent) to decline further.

Indeed, the decline in unemployment claims and increased hiring is one of the reasons why Gallup found that "current employment ratings remain considerably better than they were in the recent past."

The softening housing industry has hung over the economy like a dark cloud, but most economists, including Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, say it has not yet had a serious impact on the economy as a whole. Interest rates, while a bit higher, remain low by historical comparisons. Housing is expected to pick up in the last half of this year.

Increased U.S. exports as a result of a global boom and a weaker dollar will be significant factors in higher second-quarter economic growth, as will retail sales that have already been showing increasing strength.

Why are Americans still so sour on the economy when it remains quite sturdy and promises faster growth in the months to come?

One big reason: the almost universally negative reports in the national news media. Americans still get a sense of the economy's health from the nightly network news shows where positive facts about the U.S. economy never get reported.

The Bush administration has been unable to fashion an effective and sustained counterattack to the media's negative tilt, and, until it does, it's unlikely that Gallup's depressing numbers will change anytime soon.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.