More than half of Connecticut voters surveyed say rising prices have forced them to make "big changes" in how they shop for groceries, and nearly a quarter say they have had to sell something of value to pay bills in recent years, a new University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant poll shows.
The poll of 517 likely voters in Connecticut, taken in mid-September, paints a more dire economic snapshot in Connecticut than in the U.S. as a whole.
In Connecticut, 17 percent said they had lost a job at some point in the past three years, compared with 11 percent nationwide. And reduced wages, hours and benefits penetrated even deeper in Connecticut, touching 25 percent of likely voters, higher than the 20 percent nationally.
Yet, as the November elections approach, many of those headed to the polls in Connecticut said they were better off now than they were four years ago, despite job losses, reduced wages and benefits, and homes falling into foreclosure, the poll found.
In Connecticut, 43 percent said they were generally better off than they were four years ago — compared with 35 percent nationally. Among those surveyed in the state, 34 percent said they were generally worse off than four years ago, compared with 42 percent nationwide.
The sentiment in Connecticut may be colored by the candidate supported by those polled or the party they identify with, poll Director Jennifer Dineen said.
Both in Connecticut and across the country, those who identified themselves as Democrats were far more likely to respond that they were better off than were self-identified Republicans and independents. That shows through even though Democrats were more likely to have suffered the worst ills of the recession.
"It seems that something other than economic experience is driving likely voter evaluations of their personal situations," Dineen said. "Our party identification and our expectations about the race and our perception of the candidate will color the view of the economy."
While the majority of likely voters agree more must be done to create jobs, those who identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans were sharply divided on how that should be accomplished. Among Republicans, 37 percent favor cutting taxes on businesses, while 33 percent of Democrats supported spending on infrastructure.
The state poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points; the national poll's margin of error is 3.0.
'We Don't Buy What We Used To'
The sting of job loss has touched the family of Tim Singler, one poll respondent.
In 2006, he moved with his family of four from New York to Southington to stay with his company, where he worked as an insurance underwriter. Just over two years later, he was laid off. He spent more than a year out of work.
Singler, who identified himself as an independent voter, said he was fortunate to get another underwriter job that pays well, though not as much as his previous job. His wife works part time as a medical office secretary, but their budget is tighter than it was before he lost his job.
"Everything has gone up. We don't buy what we used to buy," Singler, 46, said. "The grocery store. That's the main thing. We rarely do steak, and it's not for health reasons."
Singler is among 54 percent of the likely voters polled who made big changes in buying habits at the grocery store because of rising prices, compared with 49 percent across the country. He also is among the 22 percent in Connecticut who sold something of value to pay bills or make ends meet, above the 18 percent nationally. Singler declined to say what he sold.
The dramatic downturn in the housing market was a key factor in the deepening recession and only now are there early signs of a recovery.
It is too late, though, for Suzanne Marquis, 49, of Winsted.
Marquis, who was surveyed for the poll, lost her job as a retail manager last December and has been unable to find a similar job. Meanwhile, Marquis and her husband, an apartment maintenance worker, have lost their home to foreclosure. The lender has taken possession of the property, and the couple is now waiting for the notice to move out.
Marquis, who said she is registered as a Republican but is typically independent, said her husband's pay was not enough to keep the household afloat.
"It's harder to find a job that pays well," Marquis said. "If the economy were better, I could have gotten on my feet quicker."
According to the poll, 9 percent of respondents reported falling behind on mortgage payments or had a home foreclosed on, compared with 6 percent nationally.
Better Off Than 4 Years Ago
The assessment of being better off now than four years ago comes through easily for Marie Schenk, 23, despite a frustrating search for a job following her graduation from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., in May.
Schenk, who grew up in Waterford in a heavily Democratic family, began her search in December, months before graduating with a bachelor's degree in government. She was still without a job after commencement, so she applied for the AmeriCorps VISTA, a national anti-poverty service program. She landed a yearlong assignment in Boston as a database manager at a nonprofit that tutors children.
Schenk said she has an apartment outside of Boston, though her parents still help her financially by paying for her car insurance and sometimes sending her groceries.
"I am happier than I was four years ago when I wasn't independent at all," Schenk said. "I've got a job and a place and I'm working toward being independent."
She hopes that her experience will help her land a permanent position.
The poll found that a solid majority of likely voters in Connecticut — 73 percent — agree that "politicians in Washington should do more to create jobs" rather than "do less and let the market recover on its own." That was higher than nationally, where 64 percent favored government doing more.
But how they would accomplish growth differed widely. The poll gave respondents a list of options for creating jobs. The most popular was raising taxes on businesses, 28 percent; followed by more spending on road and other infrastructure projects, 22 percent; cutting taxes on businesses, 20 percent; and budget cuts to reduce the federal deficit, 13 percent.
Self-identified Democrats represented the largest number favoring government taking more steps to boost employment, at 87 percent. That isn't surprising considering the party's ideology, Dineen said. But the approach also is popular with the majority of independents, at 68 percent, and 47 percent of Republicans.