Pew: Residents in U.S., Western Europe Say Their Economies Need Reforming

A survey of residents in the United States and three Western European countries found that half or more of them said their country’s economy needs major changes or to be completely reformed.

The Pew Research Center survey covered France, Germany and the U.K., along with the U.S., and was fielded in November and December of last year as some countries were seeing spikes in the coronavirus. Since then, all four countries have increased vaccinations and begun loosening restrictions on businesses.

The country where residents believe the most change is needed was France, with 70% of those surveyed saying the economy needs “major changes” or “needs to be completely reformed.”

In the U.S. and U.K, the combined numbers for those two choices were 50% although the U.K. had a slightly higher percentage of folks favoring major changes, at 41% compared to the U.S. at 40%. Approximately 45% of Germans favored major changes to the country’s economy.

The survey asked the respondents a series of questions related to five economic policies: providing more job and skills training, building more housing, increasing benefits for the poor, raising taxes on the wealthy and providing a universal basic income.

Job training programs were favored the most, with all four countries having more than 60% of those surveyed supporting that policy. The U.K. was highest, at 76%, followed closely by the U.S., at 75%.

The lowest support was for universal basic income, but 50% of those who answered the survey in the U.K. supported it.

“All five of these policies are very popular,” says Kat Devlin, senior research associate at Pew. “Overall, these are pretty popular policies.”

Support for government regulation of business was strongest in the U.K., where 67% of those surveyed in favor and the lowest in the U.S. at 46% popularity and 50% deeming it “bad.”

The responses divided along political lines, with the highest support for economic reform coming from left-leaning respondents, with the U.S. seeing the most differences. Some 77% of respondents on the left favor at least significant changes to the economic system, while only a third of those on the right supported that.

In response to the pandemic, countries around the world ushered in various programs to support businesses and people facing unemployment. The U.S. led the way, with roughly $5 trillion in relief such as direct payments to individuals, loans to businesses and enhanced unemployment benefits. Altogether, the collective global response has exceeded $20 trillion.

President Joe Biden and a Democratic Senate have signaled a much greater willingness to use the power of the government to steer the economy, targeting childhood poverty, the carbon-dominated power sector, and corporate taxes than did the Trump administration and the GOP Senate. In the European countries surveyed, a broader array of government-funded programs provide a larger safety net for their citizens than does the U.S.

However, the Pew survey was completed before two of three major U.S. relief packages were passed and as many economists in the private and public sector are forecasting 2021 to be one of the strongest years for global economic growth in decades.

Pew is now refielding some of the questions and expects to have those results available in late May or early June, Devlin says.

The survey did find some optimism amid the gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of those in the four countries said they had a “somewhat good” chance of improving their living standards with public opinion in France more divided. Optimism ran the highest in the U.S., where nearly three in 10 thought their chances are “very good” for an improved standard of living.

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