WASHINGTON—A report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that after more than four years of financial hardship, a majority of Americans now feel more at ease living in a failing economy than they would in a thriving one.
The report concluded that the constant threat of a second recession, record joblessness, ever-rising health care costs, and a soaring national debt, while devastating, have come to be the only things citizens know they can truly count on in these bleak and unstable times.
"To be honest, without the specter of defaulting on my mortgage looming over my head, something would just feel off," said Louisville, KY resident Dale Bowman, one of thousands polled for the study. "Call me a creature of habit, but I'm just accustomed to waking up knowing our unemployment rate is over 9 percent, there's nothing I can do about it, and it'll be a very long time before we can ever hope to pull out of this."
"Even if I did somehow make enough money to keep my head above water, I haven't the slightest clue what I'd do with it anymore," Bowman added.
According to the survey, 63 percent of Americans said they had come to rely upon the familiar sense of dread that came from knowing the country was quickly losing its place as an economic superpower, while 71 percent described finding a kind of tranquility in the steady, predictable cuts to local, state, and federal funding.
In addition, 80 percent reported they had been tightening their belts for so long, the thought of loosening them again after all this time just felt unnatural.
"You get used to sending 50 resumés into the void each day and having them all go unanswered," said Mary-Lee Jones, 46, of Cleveland, who later called the enduring unlikelihood of ever finding employment "her rock." "The emotional trauma of not knowing if or when I'll work again has just become a regular part of my life. Honestly, not living on the knife's edge of poverty might make me a little anxious."
The report also found that many take comfort in the dependable stream of ominous fiscal predictions in the media, particularly in seeing, on a regular basis, the weary face of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the cover of major newspapers, accompanied by giant bold letters announcing the dollar's latest slide.
"Even if the economy did start to make a miraculous recovery, all that would happen is I'd get my hopes up and then, boom, it would collapse again like it always does," Phoenix-area carpet salesman Mike Nicolette said. "At least now I'm fully aware that the shitty hand I've been dealt isn't going to change for a while. It's something I can count on, you know?"
"My children have never seen America in good financial times," Nicolette added. "An upswing now would probably just confuse them, frankly."
Faced not only with temporary hardship but also the possibility of a fundamentally broken economic system, Stan McGrath of Houston told reporters he was beginning to think long-term.
"A lifetime of barely getting by would be something stable, at least," said McGrath, a 38-year-old Wal-Mart cashier. "If nothing else, I wouldn't have to keep myself up at night worrying about whether the American dream had totally abandoned me."
"That'd be such a relief," he added.