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Jan 16 (Reuters) – Barely two in five people believe their families will be better off in the future, according to a regular global survey that also showed rising distrust of institutions among low-income households.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, which has surveyed the attitudes of thousands of people for more than two decades, found that economic pessimism is highest in some of the world’s leading economies, such as the United States, Great Britain, Germany and Japan.

It also confirmed how societies were torn apart by the effects of the epidemic and inflation. Institutions such as government, business, the media, and NGOs are still widely trusted by higher-income households. But alienation is high among low-income groups.

“This really showed a massive class divide,” said Richard Edelman, whose Edelman Communications Group released the survey of more than 32,000 respondents from 28 countries between Nov. 1 and Nov. 28 of last year.

“We saw it in the epidemic because of differential health outcomes, now we see it in terms of the impact of inflation,” he added. The World Health Organization and others have cited the epidemic’s greater toll on the poor, while low-income earners suffer from more expensive staples.

Globally, only 40% agreed with the statement that “my family and I will be better off in five years’ time”, compared to 50% last year, with advanced economies the worst: the United States (36), Britain (23 %), Germany (15%) and Japan (9%).

Fast-growing economies saw much higher scores, albeit lower than last year, with only China bucking the trend by rising one percentage point to 65%, despite the economic disruption caused by its now-relaxed “zero COVID” policy.

Lack of confidence

Such worries reflect deep uncertainty about the state of the global economy as the war in Ukraine continues and central banks raise their lending rates to ease the squeeze. The World Bank warned on Tuesday that it could slip into recession this year.

While Edelman’s long-term trust index averaged 63% trust in major institutions among high-income US respondents, that figure dropped to 40% among low-income groups. Similar differences based on income were present in Saudi Arabia, China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

In some cases, it hinted at overt polarization, with high levels of respondents agreeing with the statement “I see deep divisions and I don’t think we’ll ever get past them” in countries such as Argentina, the United States, the South. Africa, Spain, Sweden and Colombia.

While such attitudes inevitably reflect current events, waning trust in government in particular has been a key research topic for several years, with confidence levels sharply lower this year than the relatively healthy numbers seen by business.

Edelman attributed this to a positive perception of company leave schemes during the pandemic, the company’s move to withdraw from Russia due to the war in Ukraine, and a sense that companies are starting to up their games on diversity and inclusion.

He said pollsters by a six-to-one margin wanted businesses to do more about everything from training to climate change, and suggested this should encourage them to reject accusations of “woke capitalism” by US Republicans.

“I think our data gives great ammunition to CEOs who have recognized that business must be an important force in public affairs,” he said.

Written by Mark John; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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