May 3, 2012

Only 1 in 5 Americans Trust the Financial System

‘Average’ Americans and expert economists differ on finance, economic policy issues: Financial Trust Index

An Occupy Wall Street protester in September. Trust in banks has risen by two percentage points since December. (Photo: Joyce Hanson) An Occupy Wall Street protester in September. Trust in banks has risen by two percentage points since December. (Photo: Joyce Hanson)

Only 22% of Americans trust the U.S. financial system, according to the latest quarterly Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index.

Trust in the stock market, mutual funds and large corporations all eroded slightly in the new survey, released Wednesday. At the same time, trust in banks rose by two percentage points to 32%.

Housing market expectations also improved, with 32% of respondents believing housing prices will increase in the next 12 months (compared with 26% in December). However, the number of people who said they knew someone who had strategically defaulted on a mortgage rose to 37% from 32% in December.

 “This quarter we also saw an increased appetite for financial risk,” Luigi Zingales, co-author of the index and a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, said in a statement. “Although some areas of the study show a drop in trust, 25% of people surveyed demonstrated a willingness to make potentially high-yielding investments despite higher risks.”

The current issue of the Financial Trust Index also compared public opinion with the opinions of the Chicago Booth IGM Economic Experts Panel, a group of economists with an interest in public policy from the major areas of economics.

Similar to the December findings, the report found a high level of contrast between the opinions of average Americans and economists. Among the key findings:

  • Survey respondents are much less persuaded than economic experts that the 2008 bank bailout reduced unemployment. Whereas 78% of economists agreed that the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 because of the government’s intervention, only 43% of the index sample agreed with that statement.
  • Forty-six percent of the sample agreed that the unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan. In contrast, 80% of the economic experts felt the stimulus contributed to lower unemployment. However, 43% of respondents and 46% of economists believed the benefits of the stimulus plan would ultimately outweigh the costs.
  • Two-thirds of survey participants believed that the typical corporate chief executive was paid more than the value he or she adds to the firm, while only one-third of economic experts thought this was the case.
  • Sixty-four percent of respondents disagreed somewhat or strongly with the idea that a gas tax is a better way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than mandatory standards for cars, while only 2% of the economists disagreed. In fact, 90% of the experts agreed somewhat or strongly that a gas tax is preferable to auto standards as a way to control emissions.

The current Financial Trust Index also looked at the issue of credit. It found that 17% of Americans are “credit constrained,” having either been rejected for a loan or having not applied for fear of being rejected, according to Paola Sapienza, co-author of the index and a professor of finance at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“Interestingly, most of these people reported incomes less than $50,000, but about 3% earn more than $100,000,” Sapienza said in the statement.

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