fdu_public_mind_pollHigh Hopes Dashed, New Jerseyans Now, Expect Conditions to Remain the Same

According to the most recent consumer survey of Garden State residents by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) say they are currently better off financially than they were last year, down 14 points from January 2012 (32%) and eight points from the August 2012 survey (26%).  Fewer, however, say they are worse off (30%) compared with the last two studies (43 and 41%, respectively). For the first time since the same questions were asked a decade ago, the majority (52%) of New Jersey residents say they are ‘the same’ as they were in the past year.  

“Whether the glass if half full or empty depends on what expectations you bring to this data,” said Krista Jenkins, director of the poll and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “Holding one’s own in this difficult economy can be seen as a good thing just as much as not expecting to get ahead in the next year can be interpreted as a bad sign for New Jersey’s economy,” said Jenkins.

Income has no bearing on those who say they are better off, but those between the ages of 18 and 29 (36%) are more likely than older New Jerseyans to say they are better off today than they were last year.  

Looking ahead, about a third (34%) believe they will be better off next year than they are today.  This is about the same as observed in August (38%), but down from last January (47%).  Once again, the percent saying they will be ‘the same’ (42%) has increased dramatically from the last two times the same question was asked (19%, 18%, respectively).  

“Economic optimism is clearly being tempered in the state, likely because of the enduring effects of Hurricane Sandy, a stubbornly high unemployment rate, and fiscal uncertainty at both the state and national level,” said Jenkins. Thirty-three percent say their personal finances were affected by Hurricane Sandy, and of these, a full third (30%) anticipate a continuation of these difficulties in 2013. “These numbers reinforce the concerns that New Jerseyans have over any federal delays in sending disaster aid to our region,” said Jenkins.

Those in the highest income bracket, making 150k or more, are the least likely (28%) to say things will get better in the next year but are also the most likely to say things will remain the same (51%). By a two to one margin, non-whites (51%) are more likely than whites (25%) to believe they will be better off in the upcoming year.  

More Garden Staters also tend to believe that business conditions in the state have stabilized compared to their assessment a year ago. Today a fifth (21%) believe business conditions are about the same today as they were ago year ago, compared to 12 percent who said the same thing when asked in January of 2012. Twenty-nine percent believe business conditions are better today than they were a year ago, virtually unchanged from last year (30%). Sizable numbers of New Jerseyans continue to evaluate business conditions poorly. Four-in-ten (41%) believe the business climate has grown worse over the past year, a percentage that is statistically the same as the 46 percent observed last year. However, 39 percent also expect business conditions to improve over the coming year.

“Again, the data paint a complicated portrait of New Jersey’s economic future, at least as interpreted through the eyes of everyday citizens,” said Jenkins. “Stabilization coupled with optimism for the future is one way to understand things, yet retrospectively people haven’t seen much to inspire hope for business prospects in the state.”

Unemployment continues to weigh somewhat on New Jersey’s economy, as 56 percent say they or someone close to them has lost a job in the past year. This is down from 63 percent a year ago.  Despite this improvement, about a third (31%) are either very or somewhat worried they might lose their job in the next year, unchanged from January 2012 (32%).  

New Jerseyans continue to struggle with credit card debt, with a third (32%) saying it is very or somewhat difficult to make payments on their outstanding credit card balances, unchanged from about a third (31%) in January 2012.  

On the housing front, often a leading indicator of recovery, nearly half (48%) believe homes will increase in value in 2013, unchanged from a year ago (46%).  However, after a better than expected run up in housing prices in 2012, more now believe prices will decrease in the upcoming year (38%) than did in January 2012 (30%).

The composite Index of New Jersey Consumer Intentions - what New Jersey consumers think they will do in the way of purchasing and investing (See Tables 9 and 10)  - is 39, a number that is virtually identical to what was observed in January 2012 (41). The index can range from 0 to 100. The composite Index of New Jersey Performance – what consumers actually did in the past year – is 34, virtually unchanged from a year ago (35). Typically, in stable times the difference between the two measures is between one and five points. During bad times, such as 2009 and 2010 the difference is more than 10 which means that consumer intentions were quite inconsistent with their actual spending patterns over the past year. Currently, the difference is within the 5- point range, which suggests that consumers are in a good position to predict their spending in the months ahead.  

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 676 registered and unregistered voters statewide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from January 2 through January 10, 2013, and has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points.