WASHINGTON - Americans are by nature an optimistic, hopeful people, but the persistently dismal economy of the Obama years has crushed that spirit to debilitating levels.
As President Obama plunges into his second, four year term, Americans are more depressed about the future than at any time since the Carter years, according to the Gallup Poll.
Only 39 percent of Americans rated the nation's climate as positive, the lowest level Gallup has recorded since the end of Jimmy Carter's single term in office in 1979. That's when inflation was soaring and the U.S. economy was in shambles.
Only 48 percent now say things will get better in the next four to five years -- also the lowest polling level since 1979.
As Obama was putting together a new administration, a Gallup poll for USA Today found that worried Americans were deeply divided over whether his second-term policies would be any more effective than the failed policies of his first term.
Just 35 percent said economic conditions will improve, while 42 percent said they would worsen. A gloomy eighty percent predicted that their taxes and the crime rate would rise. And three in four expected a "troubled year" abroad when U.S. power and prestige would decline.
Not exactly a bullish vote of confidence in a president who had just won a second term by a narrow popular vote and had not run on any specific economic agenda for the next four years.
More than four years ago, the biggest public concerns troubling most Americans were the economy, jobs and unemployment, dysfunctional government, the federal budget deficits and debt, and rising health care costs.
Today, according to the Gallup Poll, the "Big Five" problems facing the country that bother Americans the most: "1. The economy, 2. jobs and unemployment, 3. problems with the way government works, 4. the federal budget deficit, and 5. healthcare."
In other words, not much -- if anything -- has changed in the past four years. We face the same troubles now that we did then. Obama can't point to one of these issues and honestly say that he has fixed any one of them.
He said he would cut the budget deficit in half in four years, but it's skyrocketed to unprecedented trillion dollar levels in each of the last four.
He said he would reduce unemployment to 6 percent, but it remains at 8 percent nationally, and at double digit levels among African-Americans, Hispanics, and young adults and in a number of states.
He said he would, by his leadership, make government work again, yet clearly the divisions that plague Congress and the administration are much worse now than they've been in recent memory. The simplest tasks of governing, like raising the debt ceiling, became enormous obstacles under his presidency.
Annual budgets are things of the past and the problem is not the House Republicans. The GOP has passed three, only to see them ignored in the Democratic Senate which hasn't passed a budget in years.
Obama's economic plans and other recommendations have been routinely ignored in Congress since 2009, even by his own party.
But the key reasons behind the pessimistic mood that has cast a pall of gloom across the country can be found in Gallup's other polling data to take the economic pulse of the nation each week or so.
Among them:1. Unemployment: 8.0 percent.
2. Underemployment (people forced to take part-time or temporary jobs, or work fewer hours, because they cannot find full time employment): 18.1 percent.
3. Economic confidence: minus 19.
4. Americans who say they are "struggling": 44 percent.
5. Americans who say they are "suffering": 6 percent.
6. Americans who say they are under "stress": 13 percent.
You do not have to scour the country, or dig deeply into the nation's economic and social data, to discover why so many Americans have become increasingly pessimistic. Not just about America's future, but about their own daily finances.
When Barack Obama took office on Inauguration Day 2009, regular gas was selling for $1.90 a gallon. But under his restrictive, anti- fossil fuels policies, gas prices have more than doubled.
According to the AAA's nationwide, gas pump surveys, the average price for a gallon of regular was $3.80 this week, and $4 or more in many sections of the country.
Obama promised us he would be something about the rising costs of medical care. But The Wall Street Journal reports that "Health insurance premiums have been rising -- and consumers will experience another series of price shocks later this year when some see their premiums skyrocket thanks to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare."
Obama repeatedly has claimed that health insurance policy premiums would be $2,500 lower at the end of his first term, but prices are "actually about $3,000 higher -- a spread of about $5,500 per family," the Journal reported.
Some of Obama's chief advisers and supporters say we had better get used to high unemployment, far slower economic growth, rising taxes and higher prices just for the essentials of life -- because this is "the new normal."
Don't believe that for a second. The dismal, jobless, economic period we are in is entirely abnormal, brought about by people and policies put into play by Obama.
Our debt didn't just happen; it is the result of excessive spending fueled by Obama's costly programs. Jobs are in short-supply because of his anti-growth, anti-jobs policies that killed trade expansion, slowed oil drilling and raised taxes on business investment and job creation.
President Reagan finished his first, tax-cutting term in office with stunning economic growth rates between 5.8 percent and 8.5 percent. Obama ended his first term with near zero growth (0.1 percent) in the fourth quarter of his fourth year in office.
Little wonder Americans are pessimistic about the future. The past four years look like a painful preview of the next four.