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The decade ended with record low unemployment, record high incomes, and people feeling more divided than any time since the 1960s.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Tensions remained high as the decade came to a close.Oregonian ended the 2010s in a surprisingly pessimistic mood, according to a new poll by the Portland-based DHM Research firm.

The state and national economies improved throughout the decade after the Great Recession, and both ended 2019 with record high employment and income gains. But most Oregonians aren't celebrating. The majority say America's best years are behind it. They say the past decade was only the fourth best in history, with the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s all being better.

In fact, 49% say the current economy is only fair or poor, compared to 48% who say it is excellent or good. The most negative group are those earning less than $50,000 per year, with 69% describing the economy as only fair or poor. Not surprisingly, the most positive group are those earning more than $100,000 or more per year, with 64% rating the economy as excellent or good.

The poll also found that 68% of respondents felt the decade was worse than previous ones for the middle class. That is consistent with studies showing increasing income inequality, with the wealthier benefiting the most from the economic recovery.

Among the most dramatic findings of the poll, 72% of Oregonians believe the past decade was worse than previous ones for children growing up. That feeling is consistent in all parts of the state and among all demographics. The biggest difference was found among people ages 18 to 29. But even 47% of them said the past decade was worse for children, compared to only 34% who said better.

DHM Research Director John Horvick said he was struck by the figure, and laments that the poll did not ask follow-up questions to better understand why.

"We can all speculate for the reasons, like social media or climate change, but that's a very strong response," Horvick said.

The poll also found that a majority believe women did better during the last decade, with pluralities also saying the same for whites and people of color. Only men were thought to be worse off by a margin 44% to 33% believing they were better off. That is consistent with studies documenting the increasing loss of manual labor jobs for those without a college education.

And Oregonians are not expecting things to improve. Looking ahead, only 30% said the state of Oregon will be better as a whole in the next decade. That compares to 43% who said it will be worse. The only optimist group was those 18 to 29 years old, with 68% of them saying things will be better.

Asked about the economy, just 21% predict conditions will be better 10 years from now. Far more, 41%, say they will be worse.


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