Poll finds debt causing stress as economy recovers

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WASHINGTON --- The economy trudges ahead, yet debt dogs many Americans, stressing them out even as they firm up their financial foundations.

There are new jobs produced but old worries persist for people despite belt-tightening and boosted savings, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

About 46 percent of those surveyed say they are suffering from debt-related stress, and half of that group described their stress as "great deal" or "quite a bit."

On the other hand, about 53 percent say they feel little or no stress at all.

That's in line with findings from last year, even though times seem better today: The economy is growing and generating jobs, and households have made progress in repairing their financial footing, trimming debt, watching spending and saving more.

The economy has made a big turnaround from a year ago, so why aren't the stressed -- and the not-so-stressed -- feeling better?

For starters, it just doesn't feel much like a recovery to many people.

Unemployment is stubbornly high: 9.9 percent. The jobless face fierce competition for work. Those with a job are watching their paychecks shrink.

A growing number are at risk of falling into foreclosure, and only those with the most stellar credit probably can get a new loan. AP-GfK polls show only 20 percent say the economy is good, compared with 15 percent last year.

Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, a research group that keeps close tabs on consumers, says it's people's circumstances -- more so than their sentiment about the economy -- that shape their confidence and their stress over debt.

The average amount owed on credit cards is $3,900, the poll said. That's down from $5,600 in the fall and $4,900 last spring.

The AP-GfK poll involved interviews with 1,002 adults and was conducted May 7-11. The margin of error was 4.3 percentage points.

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