Pennsylvania (PA) Unemployment: What do the people think?

The Pennsylvania unemployment rate rose in February by a tenth of a percentage point to 8.9 percent, with a net loss of 16,000 jobs. But what do the redidents think of the situation?

Pennsylvanians are feeling more optimistic about their own job security despite having a sour view of the state’s economy, a new Morning Call/Muhlenberg College Pennsylvania Quality of Life poll found.

For more than a year, the public lived in fear of the massive layoffs hitting businesses around the country. But as the economy begins to rebound, slightly more than half of those surveyed said they were not worried about losing their jobs compared with the 71 percent who were anxious about it in 2009.

Still, only three of 10 Pennsylvanians surveyed believe the state’s economy is doing well. That is only a hair better than the state was rated last year in the midst of the Great Recession. Last year, Pennsylvanians’ view of the state’s economy was the lowest in the poll’s seven-year history, said pollster Chris

Borick of Muhlenberg.

With the state’s unemployment rate at 8.9 percent, Borick predicts people surveyed may not be worried about losing their jobs this year because they already have lost them.

That is the case with Lillian Leeser, 64, of northeast Philadelphia. She and her husband were both laid off in the last year. Her husband began working again two weeks ago, making one-third of what he did before.

Leeser said she feels fortunate that unlike so many others, she and her husband can make do with a smaller paycheck.

”Fortunately we’ve always lived very conservatively; we’re basically OK,” Leeser said.

Pennsylvanians still working are essentially as satisfied with their paychecks as they’ve been for the last seven years, with people slightly less happy with their income levels in the last two years. One-quarter of those surveyed in the new poll said they were dissatisfied with how much money they bring home.

Similarly, job satisfaction remained consistent with many more people satisfied (46 percent) than unsatisfied (8 percent). The number of people who responded they were not sure, retired or unemployed went up five percentage points to 46 percent.

Lisa Williams, 48, of Boyertown, Berks County, runs her own landscaping business. She’s still feeling the aftershocks of the bad economy.

”I’ve had several calls about people canceling their usual yard work,” Williams said. ”They can’t really afford it, and I perfectly understand when you have to cut back and tighten your belt, the things you can do yourself are the first to go.”

Kamran Afshar, a local economist, said Pennsylvanians, specifically those in the Lehigh Valley, have reason to be optimistic. In surveys he’s done with local businesses, employers have indicated they have plans to hire.

”For the first time we’ve observed that number of unemployed is not going to go up,” Afshar said. ”Businesses feel the recession is over.”

Most Pennsylvanians surveyed are happy with their daily lives. A whopping 91 percent say the state is an excellent or good place to live, and 94 percent say it is an excellent or good place to raise a family.

But 53 percent of those surveyed say life in Pennsylvania is getting worse.

”Even though in their daily life they see lots of good in the state, there is this omnipresent feeling that things aren’t going right,” Borick said. ”There’s a sense that we’re slipping and we’re not going in the right direction.”

But Phyllis Hagginbothom, 81, who works part time making candy at Fitzkee Candies in York County, said Pennsylvania — where she has lived all her life – has only gotten better. She said there are increasingly more services to help people.

While Pennsylvanians are generally content with their quality of life, they overwhelmingly disapprove of how their federal government has handled the economy. President Barack Obama’s approval rating is slightly higher (40 percent) than Democrats and Republicans in Congress (30 percent and 27 percent, respectively).

Public opinion on the nation’s new health care reform, signed into law last month, was also negative. More than half of those surveyed said it is a ”bad thing,” compared with 36 percent who said it is good. Moreover, 58 percent said they were either angry or disappointed with Congress’ passage of the reform bill.

While the state may be divided on many political issues, one issue that nearly every person could agree on was a ban on driving while using a cell phone. Allentown last month made it a crime to use hand-held phones while driving, and the state and federal governments are considering bans as well. Of those surveyed, 91 percent support a ban.

”I think it’s horrible and people should get ticketed and fined for it,’ Williams said. ”If you are distracted by more than a few seconds while you’re trying to drive in traffic you’re an accident waiting to happen.”

Muhlenberg’s Institute for Public Opinion tested the opinions of 494 Pennsylvania adults from March 29 to April 7. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. The Allentown college and the newspaper are partners on a number of surveys each year.



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