One in three Americans expects a U.S. recession in the next year, and less than a quarter think home prices will rise, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
Hispanics and African-Americans were more likely than whites to predict a recession, reflecting a deeper sense of job and economic anxiety among minorities, who represent a disproportionately large share of lower-income groups.
"There has been much, much, much more talk about a recession in the last 30 days than there had been before," pollster John Zogby said, noting that the key factors behind the latest downturn worries were issues that literally hit home for the general public -- housing and jobs.
The survey of 1,011 likely voters was conducted September 13-16, about a week after a government report showed an unexpected drop in jobs in August, the first such decline in four years. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Nearly 31 percent said they expected home prices in their area to stay about the same in the next year, while 35.5 percent expected them to drop a little, and 8.5 percent thought they would drop a lot.
Only 4.2 percent expected home prices to rise a lot, while 18.7 percent thought they would go up a little. The rest were not sure.
"That's massive," Zogby said. "Homes are seen not only as part of living the American dream, but they're also seen as an investment. This sort of anticipation is very unhealthy because it drives behavior. This is like consumer confidence. When you add it all together, it is (the makings of) an economic slowdown."
Many economists worry that consumer spending will suffer along with the slumping housing market. Millions of homeowners took out home equity loans during the five-year housing boom that ended about 18 months ago, and some of that money helped fuel a consumer spending spree.
Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy, so if tightening credit terms restrict spending, the economic damage could be serious.
The poll found that banks and other lenders received most of the blame for the mortgage crisis, which began with rising defaults among borrowers with poor credit histories but has since spread to more credit-worthy homeowners.
Almost 43 percent of those polled said banks and other lenders were to blame, followed by 12.6 percent who pointed the finger at the U.S. government, and 11.8 percent who said borrowers had only themselves to blame.
"Banks are the new oil companies," Zogby said. "They're the ones who are on the front lines."
Wall Street has come under criticism for profiting from a lucrative business in reselling mortgages with little regard for risk, while the Federal Reserve has incurred the wrath of some investors and lawmakers who say the central bank's low interest rates inflated the housing market bubble.
But less than 10 percent of Americans blamed either group. Zogby said the average American was unaware of the role Wall Street played in securitizing and reselling mortgage-backed assets. And while consumers were well aware of which mortgage broker or lender turned them down for a loan, they were less knowledgeable about how the Federal Reserve's actions affected their day-to-day lives.
Overall, about 56 percent described their personal financial situation as "good" or "excellent," down from the prior month's reading of just over 59 percent.
Some 64 percent said they felt "very" or "fairly" secure in their current job, down slightly from August's 65 percent.