Most Californians have a grim view of the economy, Field Poll finds

07/11/2012 12:00 AM

07/11/2012 7:47 AM

The recession ended three years ago and unemployment is falling – but try telling that to most Californians.

Despite evidence of a recovery, a resounding 88 percent of California voters believe the state's economy is enduring "bad times," according to the latest Field Poll.

What's more, they generally don't expect a big improvement in the next 12 months. Just 31 percent foresee the economy improving, and 24 percent believe it will get worse. The rest expect the economy to simply tread water.

The results show that most Californians don't buy into "the official numbers about how the economy is performing," said poll director Mark DiCamillo. "Not much optimism there."

In the three years since the recovery officially started, the number of Californians who believe the state is in bad times has fallen from 96 percent to 88 percent. Pollsters, economists and citizens alike believe the gloomy sentiment is emblematic of the weak pace of economic recovery.

Although more than 400,000 Californians have gone back to work since the recovery began in 2009, that represents only one-third of the jobs lost to the recession.

"Look at the unemployment rate or any indicator – they continue to be very bad, terrible," said economist Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific. "It's just a sign of a sluggish recovery."

The signs of a slowdown at the national level aren't helping, Michael added.

Folsom retiree Denise Johnson, 67, was among those telling pollsters the state is in "bad times." She later told The Bee the economy isn't in dire straits, but "things are just moving a lot slower than everyone expected. Everyone from the top down expected it to get better a bit faster."

The poll of 997 registered voters, released today, was striking for its political polarization.

While nearly everyone said the economy is in rough shape, Californians who support President Barack Obama for re-election were considerably more optimistic about the future than those planning to vote for Republican Mitt Romney.

A somewhat similar split occurred when voters were asked about their own finances: Romney supporters were more likely to say they're personally worse off than a year ago.

"People are taking in information about the economy through a political prism," DiCamillo said.

For example, Johnson, an Obama supporter, said she has noticed signs of economic improvement. "The housing market, car sales – gas prices are coming down," she said.

But Romney supporter William Treaster, who participated in the poll, said he believes Obama's policies will continue to weigh down the economy.

"I don't see things changing in the near future, not with the current administration we have in office," said Treaster, 50, an employee with the Elk Grove Unified School District. "We are still at 11 percent unemployment, 12 percent unemployment."

Actually, unemployment has fallen to 10.8 percent in California and 10.4 percent in greater Sacramento. But Treaster views the decline as a statistical sleight of hand, the result of people abandoning the quest for work and no longer being counted as unemployed.

"You can't monkey with the numbers," he said.

Larry Scott, another poll respondent, also isn't impressed by the falling unemployment numbers.

"From what I read, job growth is barely keeping up with population growth," said Scott, 47, a supervisor in the Sacramento County workers' compensation office. "The state and federal governments are in denial regarding their anticipated tax revenue."

Scott said he has gone without a raise for years, but his health insurance premiums keep rising. "That means I'm going backward," said Scott, a Democrat who plans to vote for Romney.

Politics aside, the poll is important because consumers and business executives tend to behave based on how they feel about the economy. If they think the economy is worsening, they'll tighten their purse strings.

"It's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy," DiCamillo said.

Michael said the slowdown in the national economy, which has stalled the unemployment rate at 8.2 percent, is keeping Californians on edge.

"People are cognizant of the national economy and the global economy when they turn on the news," the UOP economist said. "And they're getting nervous again."

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