Americans see increase in economic divide

WASHINGTON (AP) Americans increasingly see an economic divide between the haves and have-nots, according to a new poll that also finds a majority of people dissatisfied with the country's direction.

The poll, released Thursday, indicated the economic boom of the 1990s helped the upper middle-class and wealthy, but had little impact on the outlook or financial condition of those who make less money.

''The boom has passed these people by,'' said pollster Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Overall satisfaction with the country's direction has fallen in the past six months, with 43 percent now saying they're satisfied and 52 percent saying they're dissatisfied. That dropoff from a 55-41 positive split in January was led by a decline among women and minorities.

The number of people who think the country is divided between those who have enough and those who don't has grown steadily and now is at 44 percent up from 26 percent in 1988.

Just over four in 10 in the new poll thought President Bush was mostly concerned with helping those who have enough, while one in 20 said he was interested in helping those who don't. Four in 10 said he was treating both groups about the same.

The president has pitched his recently passed tax cut as a way to help all Americans. Just over a third said they were looking forward to getting their income tax rebates, while almost six in 10 said they hadn't thought about it.

Less than half, 44 percent, now say they are in good or excellent financial shape personally, a drop of 8 percentage points from a year ago.

''The economic gains the middle class have made seem to be very much threatened by the credit crunch and by energy costs,'' said Kohut.

The people who say they have more debt than they can afford to owe have grown from a fifth of Americans in 1992 to almost three in 10 in 2001. More than a third of those who have family incomes of less than $50,000 said they have credit card and loan debts that are more than they can afford.

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