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Three out of four say it's a recession - survey

CNN poll of American adults sees growth in those with dim view of the economy.

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By David Goldman, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Has the federal government taken the necessary steps to turn the economy around?
  • Yes
  • No

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- About three-quarters of all Americans think the economy is now in a recession and the number who feel that way continues to grow, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Monday.

In a telephone poll of over 1,000 adult Americans, 74% said they believe the nation is now in a recession. That figure rose from 66% in February and 61% in January.

Economists' definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, and though growth was sluggish in the last quarter - 0.6% - the U.S. economy has not yet shown one quarter of retraction. But to the average American, times are still tough.

"What they're describing is different from a recession - they're giving a common sense definition of a recession," said Wachovia economist Mark Vitner. "They're saying that these are tough economic times, and from that perspective they're absolutely right."

More than a quarter of those surveyed think that we are in a serious recession, with an equal number who think we are in a moderate recession. Only 16% said the economy is in a mild recession.

"This economic downturn will be relatively mild according to the numbers," said Vitner. "But the pain and discomfort for the consumer will be the most severe since 1991, and possibly since 1981 to 1982."

The most recent recession in 2001 mostly affected those in the technology sector, Vitner argued. But this downturn could affect many more.

How long will it last? The poll showed that 53% believe the downturn will last over a year, with only 2% saying it will end in six months.

By a 2-to-1 margin, the economy tops Iraq as the No. 1 issue and is rated as the top issue by four times as many Americans as terrorism. The economy is named by 42% as the biggest issue on their minds.

The poll was conducted between March 14 and March 16.

The news comes after a poll of 51 economists published last Thursday by The Wall Street Journal found 71% believe the economy is in recession. The poll was conducted between March 7 and March 11. In addition, 53% said they expect the economy to contract in the first quarter, according to the Journal. And 45% said they expect the economy to contract in the next quarter as well.

In late January, a comprehensive poll commissioned by Fortune Magazine showed that 19% of Americans believed the U.S. economy is already in a recession, and 57% thought there would be sometime in 2008. About half of those surveyed said that they had cut back their spending compared to last year.  To top of page

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