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Rating the Recession

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Americans aren't waiting for economists to declare a recession. Polls in recent months have found majorities of respondents saying the U.S. economy has already slid into that state. But how bad a recession do they think it is? A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll gave people a chance to calibrate their gloom. Sixteen percent said we're now in a "serious recession," while 25 percent said it's a "moderate recession." Twenty percent said it's merely a "mild recession," and 32 percent said we're not in a recession of any sort.

People in the $60,000-100,000 income bracket were the most likely to say we're not in a recession (44 percent), slightly exceeding the proportion of those making more than $100,000 who held this opinion (38 percent). People in the $40,000-59,999 cohort were a bit more likely than the under-$40,000s to say it is a "serious recession" (22 percent vs. 20 percent).

As earlier polls have done, this one asked respondents how they plan to use their rebate checks from the federal economic-stimulus package. In so doing, it illuminated the Catch-22 that could weaken the rebates' effect: The more people absorb the bad economic news that led to adoption of the stimulus plan in the first place, the less inclined they are to spend the money rather than save it. Just 18 percent said they'll spend the money "on purchases," with another 5 percent saying they'll spend some and save some. Nearly two-thirds said they'll either save the rebate (34 percent) or use it to pay down debt (31 percent). Living up to their feckless reputation, 24 percent of men said they plan to spend the money, vs. 14 percent of women. The feds would clearly get more bang for their stimulus buck if they canceled the rebates for women and doubled them for men.