Survey finds widespread anxiety about economyby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
Exit polls in Minnesota gave strong indications that economic worries fueled Barack Obama's victory in the state. A new survey by Minnesota Public Radio and the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs indicates a large majority of Minnesotans are nervous about the economy.
St. Paul, Minn. — The land of 10,000 lakes may now be the land of a million worries.
The MPR and Humphrey Institute's new poll found that 74 percent of Minnesotans worry about their family finances a fair amount or a great deal. The survey of more than 700 Minnesotans has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.
Four in ten respondents say their financial situation has gotten worse in the past 6 months. Half of poll respondents say the recent stock market ups and downs will hit their household immediately or within a year.
University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs said the poll reveals a lot of anticipatory fear.
"The general finding is that there is some immediate pain from the financial crisis and the economic turmoil, but the larger impact is in terms of the anxiety, insecurity and the sense of foreboding with respect to the future," Jacobs said.
That sense of insecurity is understandable, coming from a poll respondent like Jennifer Scott, who lives in Lindstrom with her husband and five kids. Her husband has been out of work due to knee surgery, and he has a new job offer, but they'd have to move, and they can't sell their house. Scott, though chipper, said they're struggling.
"We've never done debt but today I just wrote a check from the credit card company," Scott said. "We had to because our mortgage was coming out today and we didn't have any money. We're pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of people, but we couldn't anymore."
The Scotts are cutting back on spending, along with many other Minnesotans. The poll found two-thirds of respondents eat out less often and have trimmed spending on entertainment. About 60 percent said they're buying cheaper groceries.
But a number of respondents MPR contacted are scaling back despite relative financial security.
Tim Wolf is one such person.
"As far as my household, I carry very little debt," he said. "I'm not worried about making a payment on a credit card."
Wolf is a FedEx courier who lives in Golden Valley. He said his job is pretty stable and his wife got a raise in the past six months. Still, Wolf is cutting out frivolous spending and won't buy the new computer he wants.
"We want to be in a position of strength," Wolf said. "So that means cutting back and saving some money up."
Marilee Peterson, of Winthrop, is in a similar position. Her husband's tool business is booming, and her company recently asked her to move from part time to full time. Still, Peterson rated her family's situation as only "fair" and said they're holding off on buying a flat screen TV and are pinching pennies.
"Because we hear everything in the media, on the news," Peterson said, "and it's like, is there something bigger to come that we're not seeing yet, that's going to directly affect us?"
Economics professor Louis Johnston of the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University said it's common for people to retrench upon hearing news of others' woes.
"They look not at their own absolute financial situation but their own relative financial situation," Johnston said. "If they see other people doing worse, they start to think 'Oh my gosh, how am I going to be relative to them? Am I going be better off or am I going to be just as bad off as they are?'"
Johnston said the power of suggestion can be deadly economically.
The fear contagion was on display this past weekend at R.F. Moeller Jeweler in Edina.
A woman who would only give her first name, Angela, was buying herself some birthday presents. She dropped $2,000. It was an impulse buy.
"I'm treating myself to some jewelry. Some bling," she said.
Her friend shrugged. "We haven't seen the recession," she said.
But after a few questions about whether the women had felt any effects of the downturn, the mere suggestion of a bad economy gave Angela the willies, and she appeared nervous.
"She's making me feel really scared," she told the jeweler, "so can I take it back?"
Angela kept the jewelry but the talk of the slowing economy almost cost the jeweler a sale, which didn't make him happy.
Economist Louis Johnston said once people who can afford to spend money get nervous and start retrenching, that will end up bringing the economy down, it will end up slowing growth.
And then, Johnston said, it can end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy that the economy is actually getting worse.
- Morning Edition, 11/06/2008, 6:55 a.m.