Public's reaction to economic gloom not as negative as expected

 

ANALYSIS:Most people are happy with their way of life and have not had their pay or hours reduced, writes CARL O'BRIEN

SO, MAYBE we’re not so gloomy after all? You might have thought soaring unemployment, the prospect of the toughest budget in a generation and an economy on the rocks would send people into a downward spiral.

But the results of this Irish Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll indicate that people aren’t nearly as negative as you might expect.

Three-quarters of people say they are content with their way of life, while even more again feel Ireland needs to start believing in itself once again.

Not everyone has been hit by the recession in the same way. In fact, most people – almost 70 per cent – say they haven’t had their pay cut or had their working hours reduced.

Much has been made about the pressure the recession is placing families and couples under. Yet, the vast majority say their relationships are not under strain and disagree that it is affecting their mental or physical health.

Older people aged 65-plus are most likely to be content with life (94 per cent), followed by younger people aged 18 to 24 (76 per cent).

The level of contentment dips to about 65 per cent for others.

This isn’t a case of mass delusion over the scale of the challenge facing the State by any means. The vast majority believe, for example, that the recession is worse in Ireland than it is in most European countries. And significant numbers acknowledge that pay cuts and higher taxes are on the way.

STRUGGLING

Yet for significant numbers of people struggling to cope, the recession has been a jolting experience.

One in four people say they, or someone in their household, has lost their job as a result of the recession. The numbers affected are spread evenly across all age groups.

One in five have had their hours reduced by an average of just over 40 per cent. Similarly, of the 23 per cent of people who have had their pay cut, their salaries have reduced by about a quarter. For many, saving money is no longer an option. A quarter of people say they aren’t able to save anything these days. Similar numbers say their main concern is simply getting by from one day to the next.

Those most likely to be struggling to make ends meet are not younger people or older people: it is the middle-aged. Those most likely to be unable to save money or get by on a daily basis are in the 45 to 54 age group.

Similarly, this is the age group most likely to feel depressed over the past year due to the pressure of the economic downturn, or feel worried that their homes are in negative equity. Maybe this is because middle-aged people have had the most to lose from the recession, through failed investments and lost savings.

YOUNG PEOPLE

Much has been made about the thwarted ambition of a “lost generation” of young people seeking to enter the workforce. Yet young people are still optimistic about the future.

Almost 60 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 feel their “greatest achievements” are ahead of them – although this falls dramatically among those aged 25 to 34.

Almost half of young people aged 18 to 24 are considering going back to college to retrain or improve their job prospects. These numbers fall to about a third for those aged 25 to 44.

That’s not to say that everyone is optimistic. Some have been deeply affected by the fallout from the downturn. About one-fifth of those aged 18 to 24 and one-quarter of those aged 25 to 34 agree that they have become “quite depressed” over the past year as a result of the recession.

MORTGAGES AND NEGATIVE EQUITY

Despite a perception that negative equity and mortgage difficulties are chiefly the preserve of younger people, figures show these problems are spread across most age groups. The numbers of people who are falling behind on mortgage payments are small – but significant. A total of 5 per cent say they can’t keep up their payments. This rises to 8 per cent among two age groups: those aged 25 to 34, and those aged 45 to 54 years. Much larger numbers are worried that their homes are in negative equity. A quarter of people confess to being worried and, once again, the numbers are highest among these same two age groups: 25 to 34 years (33 per cent) and 45 to 54 years (36 per cent).

CLASS DIFFERENCE

It’s little surprise that the economic downturn is being felt most sharply among the less well-off. More than half of people from lower-paid and lower-skilled backgrounds agree that their main concern is getting from one day to the next.

This figure falls to 41 per cent among those from better off backgrounds.

It is also evident in attitudes towards cuts in social welfare. For example, 32 per cent of the better off agree with reductions in welfare payments, compared to 19 per cent of the less well-off.

One thing which does unite people of all income backgrounds is their opposition to new taxes. Both lower and higher-income groups are opposed to a property tax and third-level fees in similar numbers.


The Irish Times

The survey findings are accurate to within approximately plus or minus three percentage points. Interviewing was conducted between October 12th to 26th , 2009.