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It's a recession to 4 out of 5 Americans

A CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that the nation is becoming more convinced the economy is in a nosedive.

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By Catherine Clifford, CNNMoney.com staff writer

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll showed that 79% of respondents think the economy is in a recession.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A new poll shows that more Americans think the economy is in a recession.

A national CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Tuesday found that 79% of respondents - nearly 4 out of 5 - believe the economy is now in a recession. That is up from 74% of Americans in March, 66% in February and 46% just a half-year back.

The poll results came from telephone interviews with 1,008 adult Americans conducted by telephone on April 28-30.

The National Bureau of Economic Research defines a recession on its Web site as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales."

But Americans are not quite as hung up on statistics and definitions - they tend to focus more on the job and housing picture around them when they talk about an economy in recession.

"You probably don't have 79% of economists saying that we are in a recession," said Jeoff Hall, chief U.S. economist for Thomson Reuters. The country has "lost 260,000 jobs (in the first 4 months of 2008), so for those people it is not a recession, it is a depression."

The high percentage of American consumers who have said that the country is in a recession could also be skewed due to the nature of the questionnaire. "When given a yes or no questionnaire to fill out, when they can't qualify it further, 'Yes,' consumers will say, 'my situation feels like a recession,'" said Hall.

A recession to Americans: Home and job

"The most tangible part to consumers is the labor market and the housing market," said Gus Faucher, the director of macroeconomics at Moody's Economy.com.

"We could not have had this recession without the problems in the housing market," said Faucher. He said the recession that he believes is under way started with Americans unable to make their mortgage payments.

Another factor in the poll may well be surging oil prices. Crude hit a record above $122 a barrel Tuesday, and while retail gas prices have eased the past few days, but consumers paying $4 or more a gallon in some places are still being pinched at the pump.

The increase in gas prices is having a "profound impact on consumer sentiment," said Hall.

A year ago, a gallon of gas cost on average $3.035, which is 19% lower than the average price of a gallon of gas now.

Faucher said that higher food and gas prices worsen the economic situation for consumers.

"We would have had a recession without gas, food price increases, but it adds to the economic weakness," he said. "That is another reason consumers are cutting back."  To top of page

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