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June 25, 2014
Field Poll: More Californians better off financially, but still see state in bad times

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credit_card.JPGBy Christopher Cadelago

Tracey La Monica lost her job at a nonprofit organization four years ago as the state's economy sputtered amid the global economic crisis. Although she soon landed employment, La Monica said she believes the slow recovery continues to weigh heavily on California.

"I personally am doing well. I am better off than I was last year," said La Monica, 40, of Pacific Palisades. "But the state has some work to do."

For the first time in seven years, more voters in California report being better off financially compared with the previous year, according to a new Field Poll released Wednesday. Still, more than twice as many say the state is in bad economic times than say it is in good shape, the survey found.

"We're not out of the woods yet," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll.

Statewide unemployment tumbled to 7.6 percent in May, the lowest level since the stock market crashed in 2008. Sacramento's unemployment clocked in at 6.7 percent, the first time in six years that the jobs figure dipped below 7 percent. The stock market and home values in many areas also have seen healthy growth.

Despite the steadily decreasing unemployment rate, a majority of voters describe the employment situation in the state as very serious. Sixty-four percent say jobs are difficult to find in their communities, while just 21 percent have the impression that they're widely abundant.

La Monica, a participant in the poll and a registered Democrat, previously lived in the Central Valley while serving as an aide to former state Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield. La Monica said she perceives a glut of employment opportunities in coastal Los Angeles.

"I didn't have any problems once I came here," she said.

The survey found that more people, 44 percent, see themselves as financially better off this year compared to last. The assessment was more upbeat than each of past six polls - up from 14 percent in 2008.

Opinions on the state's economy also show marked improvement, with 53 percent saying economic times are bad. In each of the past six years, between 72 percent and 96 percent said the state was in bad times.

Folsom resident Kristin Gray, 45, credits the stabilization and in some cases growth on the measures put in place by government. An information technology project manager, she said the fear of her assets further depreciating has been replaced by optimism that they will continue to increase, albeit not particularly rapidly.

"The losses have stopped, and that by itself creates an impression in my mind that the economy is improving," said Gray, a Democrat.

The poll showed that improvements varied by household income. Those earning less than $40,000 per year are more likely to report being financially worse off this year (37 percent) than better off (30 percent). There also were distinct differences in voters' evaluations of the state's condition.

Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to believe the state is in the economic doldrums. DiCamillo noted that those in the comparatively more affluent San Francisco Bay Area provide a more positive take on the state's economy, with a larger number (35 percent) saying things are going well. In Los Angeles County that sentiment is shared by 31 percent, and in the Central Valley only 24 percent feel similarly.

Jeff Henson, 52 of Carmichael, was not among the four in 10 voters who expect to be better off financially next year, a 10 percent increase from 2012 and 2013. Henson, who works in construction, said the last four to five years have demonstrated that "things have gone downhill and things have gotten more expensive."

"If you look around the streets, people are just standing on the curb," said Henson, an independent. "There is nothing going on around here - at least on my level."

Henson said he recently spent $50 for a bag of groceries, including about $5 just for the milk.

"It's hard to make 50 bucks. I mean you really have to work hard to make 50 bucks," he said.

Nonetheless, Henson said he remains hopeful about a rebound that lifts up all sectors. "I think we are better as a society when we are all moving."

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago