PENNSYLVANIA Statewide polls find a spike in anxiety

Concerns over the cost of health care, retirement and home-ownership have risen since last survey.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- Pennsylvanians are more anxious about their economic well-being than they were 16 months ago, according to a statewide poll released Tuesday.
The Issues PA/Pew Benchmark survey of 1,520 adult residents, conducted last month, showed clear increases from a September 2003 survey in the numbers of people who were "very" concerned about specific things:
UBeing unable to afford necessary health care for sick family members: 53 percent, compared to 37 percent in the previous survey.
UNot having enough money for retirement: 50 percent, compared to 39 percent.
ULosing their home or being unable to afford one: 35 percent, compared to 26 percent.
ULosing their job or taking a pay cut: 32 percent, compared to 26 percent.
UBeing unable to maintain their standard of living: 40 percent, compared to 29 percent.
A three-tiered "Economic Anxiety Index," calculated from responses to those five questions, indicates 34 percent of all Pennsylvanians exhibit "high" anxiety levels compared to 22 percent in the 2003 poll. The proportion of respondents with low anxiety levels dropped to 33 percent from 43 percent.
Election effect?
Larry Hugick, chairman of Princeton Survey Research Associates International, who conducted both polls, said he was surprised by the increases. He speculated that they may reflect lingering uneasiness over last year's presidential election outcome and the tough issues that have yet to be resolved.
President Bush was re-elected, but his victory was narrow and his job-approval rating remains low -- only 49 percent in an Associated Press poll released last week -- as he prepares to begin his second term.
For everyday Americans, the election "didn't reassure them about much," Hugick said in a telephone interview.
Regional concerns
While spreading economic anxiety was evident statewide, the poll also showed regional differences.
In the Philadelphia suburbs and adjoining south-central Pennsylvania, the three most-cited problems were traffic congestion (53 percent), high taxes (47 percent) and the loss of open space and farmland (44 percent).
Respondents in the city of Philadelphia cited crime (65 percent), the lack of economic opportunities (61 percent) and traffic congestion (56 percent).
In southwest and northeast Pennsylvania and the rest of the state, the top concerns were the lack of economic opportunities (62 percent) and high taxes (52 percent).
The telephone poll, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Economy League and The Pew Charitable Trusts, was conducted Dec. 2-15. The sampling error margin was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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