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Poll shows rising public stress about economy

Fears are mounting about losing a job, not having enough money to pay the bills and evaporating retirement accounts, according to an poll released Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fears are mounting about losing a job, not having enough money to pay the bills and evaporating retirement accounts, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday. Nearly half of those surveyed said they worry about becoming unemployed — almost double last year’s number.

The poll also found that in the past month, public support has dipped slightly for the $787 billion package of tax cuts and government spending that President Barack Obama signed into law this week on the promise that it will save or create 3.5 million jobs and re-ignite the troubled economy.

“I lost a job myself,” said Edd Winkler, 40, a married attorney and father of two in Grand Rapids, Mich. “There were just too many attorneys for the amount of work we had coming in to the firm at that time.” Winkler has opened his own practice, and says most of his work involves bankruptcies.

“I know a lot of other people who have lost jobs,” he added.

Mariann Lewis, 55, of Stewartstown, Pa., says she was laid off this month from her job in a grocery store’s deli department.

“It’s pretty sad when a food store lays people off,” said Lewis, who is married. “It’s not like people are going to stop buying food.”

Lewis said she didn’t work at the store long enough to qualify for unemployment, and that her family has begun using credit cards to pay for expenses, including a relative’s funeral. “We went through all of our savings,” she said.

Winkler and Lewis are among those who are increasingly concerned about their personal economic circumstances, according to the poll.

Nearly half of those questioned, 47 percent, worry at least somewhat about losing a job, up from 28 percent in February 2008. Nearly three-fourths, or 71 percent, say they know someone — a friend or relative — who has lost a job in the past six months because of the economy.

Fear of being thrown out of work is so widespread that equal percentages of higher- and lower-income workers, 47 percent, worry about losing their jobs. Last year, only 20 percent of those earning $50,000 annually or more worried about joblessness, as did 35 percent of those earning less than that amount.

Nearly two-thirds of people, 65 percent, are at least somewhat worried about paying their bills, up from 46 percent last year.

More than two-thirds, 69 percent, worry that the value of their stocks and retirement investments will drop, up from 59 percent a year ago.

More than half, 53 percent, aren’t confident they’ll have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, up from 34 percent in February 2005.

Dean Verinder, a 40-year-old Houston engineer who fears declining oil prices will cost him his job, said he’s saving money these days.

“I’m not putting any money into the stock market,” he said. “I was lucky. I pulled all my money out before it crashed.”

Support for the economic stimulus plan, which Obama signed into law on Tuesday, slipped to 52 percent, down from 55 percent last month.

Winkler said he wasn’t confident the program would create jobs, and that those it does create will be low-paying.

“Until we can somehow keep jobs here and create actual real paying jobs, not Wal-Mart greeter jobs, those things won’t work,” he said.

Risa Stoller-Black, a 24-year-old married homemaker from Wapato, Wash., said the stimulus package would create jobs.

“I don’t see how it couldn’t, if there’s money to employ people,” said Stoller-Black, who has a 4-year-old daughter. She said “it’s just disappointing that we have to get to this point in the first place.”

Two days shy of a full month as president, Obama’s approval rating stood at 67 percent, a slight dip from the 74 percent he received before his Jan. 20 inauguration. By comparison, just 31 percent approved of Congress’ job performance, up seven points from December.

In other findings:

  • Nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, think Obama is making about the right amount of effort to cooperate with Republicans in Congress on solving the country's economic problems. About the same percentage, 64 percent, think Republicans aren't doing enough to cooperate with the Democratic president. Obama courted Republicans during negotiations on the stimulus bill, but it passed with no Republican votes in the House and just three GOP votes in the Senate.
  • People don't think much of last year's $700 billion bailout for the financial industry. Nearly half, or 47 percent, say it had no real effect on the economy, and almost a third, or 32 percent, say it actually made things worse.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted Feb. 12-17 and involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 randomly chosen adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.