News Column

Poll: Californians Still Downbeat About Economy

March 1, 2013

Jon Ortiz, The Sacramento Bee

california

For a record sixth straight year, more Californians than not say they're worse off than a year ago, according to a new Field Poll released today.

California's unemployment rate was in the double digits for years before falling under 10 percent last fall. Still, unemployment remains a "very serious" concern for 61 percent of voters, and a combined 62 percent think the jobs picture will get worse or won't change.

"This is the longest stretch of hard times we've ever seen," said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. "The severity of this downturn is a record in modern times."

Betty O'Dell, an 82-year-old Escalon retiree, said her daughter has taken a pay cut to keep her school cafeteria job. Her son-in-law works for a home-improvement retail chain that cut his pay 10 percent. Her granddaughter is unemployed and lives with a relative to get by.

"I don't know anyone laid off in the last two years who has gone back to work," O'Dell said.

When asked to assess their personal finances, 44 percent of voters said they're worse off. Another 30 percent said they are better off. The rest, 26 percent, said their finances haven't changed.

Field has asked voters the same question about their financial well-being for 30 years. Since 2008, more voters have said they are worse off than those who said they were better off.

That's twice as long as the three-year stretches in which worse-off respondents dominated the poll from 1991 to 1993.

Nearly half of Democrats, 48 percent, think job opportunities will improve in the next year, while 14 percent believe the employment picture will darken. On the other side of the political aisle, 51 percent of Republicans predict the state's job market will worsen and just 15 percent expect it will improve.

Despite the record run of overall pessimism about the economy, the survey exposed a few small pockets of voter optimism. While 72 percent of voters still think the California economy is enduring "bad times," that's a slight improvement from the 86 percent to 96 percent who described it that way the previous five years.

This year, the percentage of respondents who think California is in "good times" tripled to 16 percent from a year ago.

Robert Wiens, a retired state economist living in Sacramento, said he's encouraged by the uptick in housing prices, the drop in California's unemployment rate and the state government's brightening budget picture after voters last fall approved a tax increase.

"On balance," said the 75-year-old former Department of Finance budget analyst, "I'm optimistic."

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