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Most Americans are happy with their own lives, not the country’s direction — but once again money makes all the difference

Americans have double vision when it comes to satisfaction with their lives and with the country’s direction.

They are chipper on how things are going for them personally, but glum about what’s happening in the bigger world around them, according to a new Gallup poll.

At a time when the pandemic is slogging toward its two-year mark, stock market volatility is roiling investors and decades-high price inflation is cutting into consumer purchasing power, 17% of Americans say they are satisfied with the country’s direction, according to the poll of more than 800 people taken in early to mid-January.

Yet even when big picture problems can make a dent in their life — like disrupted holiday flights amid the omicron variant surge or soaring grocery bills — 85% of poll participants said they are satisfied with their own lives.

The 68-point difference between satisfaction with personal lives and the country’s direction was down from a 71-point divide that Gallup found one year earlier. The new poll matches other gauges finding downbeat moods on large-scale issues, like a consumer confidence survey that fell in January.

Personal satisfaction appears to be waning. The 85% who said they were satisfied with their own lives is five percentage points below Gallup’s record high of 90% in 2020. (Keep in mind, pollsters performed that survey in January of that year, roughly two months before the World Health Organization deemed COVID-19 a global pandemic.)

Speaking of that double vision, different income levels appear to make it easier to find personal satisfaction, the poll suggests — another reminder of the pandemic’s harsh glare on income inequality.

Though majorities of Americans said they were personally satisfied, households making at least $100,000 were one and a half times more likely than households making under $40,000 to say they were “very satisfied” at a personal level.

That’s 61% compared to 39%, with 52% of people making between $40,000 and $99,999 saying they were “very satisfied” with their personal lives.

Lumping in the people who said they were “somewhat” satisfied with the way things were going for them, 93% of the top-income participants said they were satisfied. It was 87% for middle income and 75% for low income participants.

It might be harder for lower income families to draw a dividing line between their mood looking in and their mood looking out, when, for example, they were more likely to be front-line workers facing the pandemic’s early risks and inflation is now particularly tough on their budgets.

However, people making under $40,000 were the most likely to say they were satisfied with the country’s direction — even though like everyone in the poll, they were predominantly dissatisfied.

One quarter said they were satisfied with the country’s direction, versus 12% of middle-income and 15% of high-income participants.

One money-minded guess as to why? A tight labor market that’s voracious for workers and pushing up wages.

A new real-time tracker on income inequality from economists at the University of California, Berkeley, tells the tale. The average adult income for Americans grew 7.6% during 2021, adjusting for inflation. For the bottom half of the income ladder, incomes grew by 11.7%.

That’s the third highest growth, behind the 12.7% income growth for the country’s one-percent and 13.9% for the country’s top 0.1%, the tracker’s data shows.

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