WBUR Poll: Majority Of Mass. Residents Say Next Generation Will Be 'Worse Off'03:01

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BOSTON — Daunted by the slow pace of economic recovery and future financial prospects, optimism for the next generation is at a low point among Massachusetts residents, according to a new WBUR poll. (See the results (PDF) and the detailed results (PDF).)

Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they think the next generation will be worse off financially than the current generation. It's the fourth time the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey for WBUR, has asked the poll question in 15 months — and the first time a majority of respondents have indicated such pessimism. A mere 8 percent said they think the next generation will be better off.

The acute negative outlook for the next generation comes 30 months after the Great Recession officially ended, in June 2009.

"It's a measure — not the only measure — but one measure of an aspect of the American dream," said Steve Koczela, president of the polling group. "When it gets to most people [saying the next generation will be worse off], then it's something we really need to pause and take note of."

Respondents are discouraged about their own financial position, as well. Sixty-three percent said they are either "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about being able to maintain their current standard of living.

"We're making less than we did four years ago and we're working harder," said Claudette Cardey, a math teacher from Plymouth, in a follow-up interview. "We put food on the table. We don't eat out anymore. We cut back on ... we went to pay-as-you-go cellphones instead of having a cellphone service. We cut back on the cable. Those things that you can basically live without."

The poll of 500 Massachusetts residents has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. It was conducted Nov. 28-30. Since, there have been some relatively positive economic headlines. The stock markets had their best week since 2009. And Friday, the federal government reported that the nation's unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent.

Massachusetts' jobless rate is still far better than the nation's, at 7.3 percent in October.

But the poll found a tapestry of ongoing financial woes, especially among the state's lower- and middle-income populations. Seventy-four percent of those making less than $25,000 a year and 68 percent of those making $25,000 to $75,000, respectively, said they "felt a lot of stress because of financial problems," compared to fewer than 40 percent of those making more than $75,000.

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Forty-five percent of those making less than $25,000 said they've maxed out credit cards, and nearly 40 percent said they've been unable to keep up with loan payments. More than 40 percent of lower- and middle-income respondents also said they've had to work a job below their skill level just to have the paycheck.

Amanda McGraph was laid off a few years ago, and the 32-year-old had to move in with her parents in Millis. The only jobs she could find pay her 20 percent less than what she made before, so she can't move back out on her own.

"I feel like I'm in worse shape now than I have been before," McGraph said. "I'm generally worried about the economy, where things are going to go, how I'm going to pay my bills."

The economic distress has been felt differently across various age groups. Baby boomers have seen their portfolios take a massive hit, as 42 percent of 45- to 59-year-olds said they lost "a significant amount of money" in the stock market. Meanwhile, 72 percent of Generation Xers — those between the ages of 30 and 44 — said they've postponed a major purchase due to financial concerns.

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Belmont's Michael Sattler, 42, says his family has put off buying a house.

"We're renting instead of buying to have the flexibility to be able to change our living situation if that's what's necessary," Sattler said.

Sattler says his family is keeping watch on all large purchases, and he's generally raising his kids differently because of the economy. He says he doesn't take for granted that his kids' generation will automatically be better off than his generation.

"I think that was a myth," Sattler said. "I think we were kind of living a dream. And I think the world has caught up to us, and is a very competitive and aggressive place. And I think in order for them to survive, it's going to based on their efforts and their initiative."

Some have a little optimism, but it's well in the future.

"We just need to find something to get the engines going again," said Daniel Crocker, a 35-year-old librarian renting in Jamaica Plain. "And that will probably result in long-term prosperity. But I don't think we're going to find it in the next five to 10 years. I think it's going to be several decades away."

This article was originally published on December 06, 2011.

This program aired on December 6, 2011.