Nov 9, 2021 - Podcasts

Americans' economic pessimism

The October jobs report showed that job creation is roaring back. 531,000 jobs were added last month and unemployment fell to 4.6% — a pandemic low. This was good news for economists and experts who have been tracking our recovery, but for the average American, these data points are getting lost in what Felix Salmon calls “economic pessimism.”

  • Plus, negotiations at the UN climate summit are about to get tougher.
  • And, what Google searches can tell us about key voter issues.

Guests: Axios' Felix Salmon, Andrew Freedman, and Stef Kight.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Erica Pandey, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:


ERICA PANDEY: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday November 9th. I’m Erica Pandey in for Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: negotiations at the UN climate summit are about to get tougher. Plus, what google searches can tell us about key voter issues.

But first, Americans' economic pessimism is today’s One Big Thing.

The October jobs report showed that job creation is roaring back. 531,000 jobs were added last month and unemployment fell to 4.6% - a pandemic low. This was good news for economists and experts who have been tracking our recovery but for the average American, these data points are getting lost in what Felix Salmon calls “economic pessimism.” Felix is here this morning to break down why there’s a disconnect between actual and perceived economic health. Hey, Felix!


ERICA: So let's start with our actual economic health. Can you throw some stats at me? How are we doing?

FELIX: We are doing great. And especially the bottom 50% is doing great. We all know that the stock market is up. right? And rich people own stocks. And the stock market has doubled since the pandemic lows. And so they're dancing and happy. But what I think people really underestimate is the degree to which the wealth of the bottom 50% has gone up. It's gone up basically from under 2 trillion to over 3 trillion just in the past year or so. And that's huge. That's like over 50% gain and a lot of it is government transfers. But the fact is that normal every day, working class Americans have way more money in their checking accounts than they ever did.

ERICA: But despite all of that one poll showed that 57% of voters think that the economy's weak up from 43% in June. So Americans are feeling pretty down about the state of things. Why is that?

FELIX: So one reason is that they're worried about inflation. And can I blame the media for this one? The media has been talking a lot about inflation. And when people start hearing there's inflation and when people see inflation in the single most salient price in the economy, which is gas prices, then they start thinking to themselves, well, what if my dollar isn’t worth what I think it's worth. And they start getting pessimistic about the economy. And in a weird way I think something similar is happening with the rich. They can look at their brokerage accounts And see however many millions of dollars in stocks, but they kind of don't believe that the stock market is real, that's real wealth. And so people look at dollars and they look at the dollars in their bank account, and they wonder whether those dollars are truly real dollars and real wealth, or whether it's just some economic legend demand, which was created by the reserve as a reaction to the pandemic.

ERICA: So if the real metrics tell us that things are going well, to what extent does this pessimism really matter?

FELIX: Well on one level, it doesn't, you know, as long as the economy is doing great, the economy is doing great. On another level, it makes a big difference for politics. So if people are happy about their wealth and their employment, and they're optimistic about the economic future of the country, then they're much more likely to vote for incumbents. And if they're pessimistic, they're much more likely to vote the current law out. And so right now, what we have is a situation that's politically bad for the Democrats. And I think we saw that in the elections a couple of weeks ago.

ERICA: And so Republicans consistently outpoll Democrats on the economy we've seen, could this be the start of a red wave - this economic pessimism?

FELIX: I spoke to pollsters about this.They say that there's still plenty of time for Biden to get credit for the healthy economy, it hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean it can't happen in the future.

ERICA: That’s Axios’ Chief Financial Correspondent, Felix Salmon. Thanks, Felix.

FELIX: Thanks Erica.

ERICA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with what we’re watching at the second week of Cop26 in Scotland.

[ad break]

ERICA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Erica Pandey.

BARACK OBAMA: There is one thing that should transcend our day-to-day politics and normal geopolitics. And that is climate change. It's not just that we can't afford to go backward. We can't afford to stay where we are. The world has to step up and it has to step up now.

ERICA: That's former president Barack Obama speaking at the UN climate conference — COP26 —on Monday. He was there to kick off the second week of the summit, a time when negotiations could get a lot more complicated. Here to explain why is Andrew Friedman, climate and energy reporter for Axios who joins us from Glasgow. Hey Andrew.


ERICA: So you wrote that the second week is likely to be contentious. Why is this week different from the last week at COP26?

ANDREW: Last week involved heads of state announcing fancy initiatives with big dollar price tags and really ambitious targets, none of which were mandatory. This week involves the nitty-gritty details of what's actually in the agreement that comes out of this.

ERICA: What's the most important thing world leaders are trying to achieve by the end of this week?

ANDREW: It really comes down to two things. It comes down to emissions targets and it comes down to money. So it's about what you're going to do on climate finance, what are you going to do for developing countries to help them transition to renewables and to help them adapt and become more resilient to climate impacts because of the emissions that have already been put up into the atmosphere from the industrialized world.

ERICA: And what else are you watching this week?

ANDREW: We're also watching to see what happens with certain countries. Because certain countries can act as spoilers at these talks at the last minute, especially. So we're watching to see what happens with the Saudi Arabian delegation. Uh, we're watching to see what the heck China does. China has been almost invisible at these talks. You're just seeing the EU and the United States run the table here, and China kind of fall back. And part of that, though, maybe their perception that the US really hasn't put up yet. We we've talked a good game, but we haven't, you know, put points on the board on, uh, President Biden's agenda, on climate, and they're waiting to see how that plays out.

ERICA: Andrew Freedman is a climate and energy reporter and co-writes the daily Generate newsletter. Thanks Andrew.

ANDREW: Thanks for having me.

ERICA: We're a year away from the 2022 midterm elections so we're starting a new project with Google Trends to track the political issues voters are searching for in each Congressional district. And as Axios' political reporter Stef Kight explains, it can give us insight into what matters to voters as we get closer to Election Day.

STEF KIGHT: One interesting trend that we noticed was if you look at Google search interest in critical race theory over the past week, a lot of districts in Virginia had really high search interest. It was an issue that Republican Glen Youngkin really focused his campaign on, especially in the closing weeks and days of his campaign. And if you zoom in a little bit more on Virginia, Representative Abigail Spanberger’s district had the highest level of interest on that issue of any district. She's a Democrat. But she's also a top target for Republicans. And that's one thing that's really interesting about this project is that it can kind of give us insight into the issues that are mattering, particularly in swing districts and those districts where there's going to be a lot of focus on. I mean, the bottom line with this issue is that, you know, after New Jersey and Virginia Republicans are certainly feeling bullish about their chances of taking back the house next year, but American's attention spans are short. They're constantly jumping from one issue to the next. So it will be interesting to see how that changes month-to-month and going into next year, which issues are trending when we get around to election day in 2022.

ERICA: Axios political reporter Stef Kight. You can read more about the project and the early trends on

And here's the post-pandemic trend that I'm watching. Your apartment could be someone's old office. Abandoned office buildings all over the country are being converted into apartments in 2020 and 2021 a whopping 13,250 apartments in the country have come from repurpose offices. And it's not just office buildings that are turning into apartments, though that's the biggest chunk. It's old hotels, it's warehouses, it's factories and even hospitals. Office buildings are interesting in particular because it's a sign of the times. Work from home means that a lot of companies are downsizing how much office space they need. And they're turning that space into apartments. That's good for developers too, because renovating an old office into an apartment is a lot cheaper than building a whole new structure.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at or reach out to me on Twitter. I’m Erica Pandey in for Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper