Executive Summary

Most high school students in the U.S. are not very well informed about the specifics of the current economy. Based on a series of six multiple choice questions about the economy, the average number of correct answers was slightly over two. There is somewhat of a dichotomy in youth expectations of the future of the economy. Although most are skeptical about the future of social security and believe that there is a reasonable chance that China will surpass the U.S. as an economic power, they also believe that their standards of living will be better than that of their parents.

Stephen Wu, associate professor of economics at Hamilton College, and his students collaborated with the research firm Knowledge Networks to conduct the national Youth Poll on the U.S. Economy. The Knowledge Networks Panel is an online non-volunteer access panel whose members are chosen through a statistically valid sampling frame covering 99 percent of the US population. 812 high school students from across the U.S. completed surveys. The survey was funded by Hamilton College's Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.

Other specific findings from the poll include the following:
  • Approximately half of the survey respondents knew the current unemployment rate in the U.S., less than a third understood the role of the Federal Reserve and slightly over a quarter could correctly identify Ben Bernanke as the current chair of the Federal Reserve.
  •  On a test of current economic facts, students who have taken or are currently taking an economics course perform slightly better than those who have not (an average of 2.5 versus 1.9).
  • In response to a question about whether or not China will surpass the U.S. as an economic power in the next 20 years, 47% responded "definitely" or "probably", while another 40% responded "maybe".
  • 84% of the sample believes that it is either "important" or "very important" for the current government to control the level of debt.
  • 40% of the sample indicated that the recent economic crisis has "definitely" affected their family's spending habits, while another 46% indicated that it has "somewhat" affect their spending.
  • Almost half of the sample believes that social security will not be available by the time they retire, while another 35% believe it will be less generous than it currently is.
  • Overall, 50% of teenagers believe that the economy will be better in five years than it is now, 16% believe it will be roughly the same, while 34% believe it will be worse than it currently is.
  • Expectations of the future differ greatly by race. 69% of African American teenagers believe that their standard of living will be better than their parents, but only 36% of White teenagers expect this to be true.
  • There is also a large racial divide regarding attitudes towards President Obama's performance to date in office. 70% of African Americans in the survey give Obama a favorable rating, but the analogous number is only 21% for Whites.

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