Poll: Georgians down on economy but hopeful about own prospects

Georgians can tell the difference between their household finances and the economic health of the larger economy, and it seems that hope hangs out close to home.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found in a poll conducted earlier this month that 62 percent of the respondents see the state’s economy as either “poor” or “not good.”

In contrast, 71 percent of those polled said they are optimistic about their own personal financial prospects over the next five years.

Margaret Toney of Gwinnett County would be among those who are down on the economy.

“So many people are having difficulty getting jobs — and sometimes only part-time jobs are available because companies do not want to pay benefits,” Toney said. “I am not a pessimistic person. My friends accuse me of being a Pollyanna, but I am also a realist.”

Despite her claims to be an optimist, Toney bucks the trend on her own prospects. Her husband’s death five years ago has a lot to do with that.

“I’m retired, and there is no way for me to increase my salary,” she said. “I just don’t have as much as when my husband was alive.”

Overall, the AJC poll shows very little change in the downbeat outlook of Georgians during the past year: 64 percent of those polled by the AJC in 2012 said the economy was poor or not so good.

Nationally, consumer sentiment about the economy is likewise about where it was a year ago, according to a survey by the University of Michigan. That poll, which is conducted monthly, does show consumer outlook up and down the past year.

The state Labor Department on Thursday announced that Georgia’s unemployment rate dipped to 8.7 percent in August. That’s an improvement after three successive months of increases, but the jobless rate in Georgia remains well above the national rate of 7.3 percent.

August’s jobless rate is also an improvement from the previous August, when Georgia’s jobless rate was 9 percent.

Rona Ehlers of Gwinnett said she sees the economic picture brightening — however hesitantly.

“I probably don’t know but a handful of people who are out of a job,” she said. “Real estate is very poor in our area, around Dacula, but I’ve seen prices start to come up.”

By and large, Georgian perspectives on the economy do not seem pegged to class, politics, gender or other distinctions.

For example, party distinctions did not seem to make much of a difference in judging the economy.

Race, too, seemed to have little impact on how people saw the economy.

Gender made a little more of a difference.

Women were less likely to see the brighter side of the current economy. Roughly 55 percent of men said the economy was not so good or poor, compared with 67 percent of women.

When it came to personal finances, however, different groups feel differently.

Democrats are 10 points more optimistic than Republicans — 78 percent vs. 68 percent. Nonwhites are more upbeat than whites – 79 percent to 66 percent.

Age seemed to work against optimism: The older the group, the less upbeat.

About 84 percent of young respondents said they were optimistic, compared with 55 percent of those retirement age or older (65 and up).

Yet some factors had surprisingly little effect. Of those with health insurance, 71 percent said they are optimistic. Of those without insurance? Also 71 percent.

To assess the economy, respondents said they don’t rely only on statistics and they don’t assume their own situation matches the larger one.

For instance, Jack Baldwin, a race car driver living in Cobb County, said he is doing well enough financially.

He is concerned about the nation’s direction, about the health care overhaul and the country’s leadership, yet he said he can’t help but describe the economic situation as good.

“I know everything is a mess. I could say the economy stinks, or I can say I’m optimistic. It’s either half-full or half-empty, and I’ve always looked at it as half-full,” Baldwin said. “That doesn’t mean I’m naive.”

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