Despite the winter surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, most New Jerseyans remained employed, didn’t experience lower incomes, or didn’t curtail their spending, according to a poll sponsored by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University released March 8.
In recent months, most New Jerseyans have maintained or improved their financial status; but as inflation rises, a large portion are pessimistic about economic conditions, the poll found.
“These results reflect the delicate balance our political leaders must employ in addressing the economy,” said John Froonjian, director of the Hughes Center, who led the poll of 655 people. “On the one hand, jobs are plentiful, and wages are going up. But people aren’t comfortable as inflation spikes gas and food prices.
“Overall, the perception is that the economy isn’t doing that well,” Froonjian said.
Most respondents haven’t lost ground financially over the past six months, with 57% of households staying level with their income and 23% increasing their income in that time.
About half (51%) said their overall fiscal status stayed the same; and for 16% of respondents, it got better. About half (51%) kept spending at the same level; and some (14%) spent more than they did prior to the winter surge. Approximately half said they did fine despite rising inflation.
That’s not the case for everyone, though. A third (32%) said they are in a worse financial situation than they were prior to the surge. One in 5 (19%) saw household income go down, and 33% cut back on spending over the past six months. About half (51%) said rising food, housing and fuel costs are making it more difficult to make ends meet.
“Most people, but not everyone, did okay during the pandemic’s latest assault on public health. But many don’t feel comfortable about the way things are going,” Froonjian said.
Under a quarter of respondents (23%) gave positive marks to the state economy. Four in 10 rated it as average, and 34% said it is in bad shape. Exactly half said the state is headed in the wrong direction, with 34% thinking it’s on the right track and 8% neutral.
Respondents were split when thinking about the future of the economy, with 48% somewhat or very optimistic and 47% somewhat or very pessimistic. One in 4 (27%) of those whose status improved and 1 in 3 (31%) of those whose income increased were among those pessimistic about the future.
Alyssa Maurice, polling researcher for the Hughes Center, said the poll reflected a number of trends or developments that could signal problems with the economy.
For instance, 67% of folks looking to buy a car and 77% of folks looking to afford a new house dubbed it as difficult or hard to do so. Three in 4 have seen local businesses close, and just 1 in 4 haven’t regularly seen empty shelves at stores. Two-thirds (64%) have experienced at least some shipping delays when ordering products.
Regarding jobs, nearly 60% of respondents said their places of employment have been short-staffed, and 34% have had to adjust operating hours because of it.
The poll was conducted from Feb. 16 to Feb. 26, 2022, via phone call. A total of 655 New Jersey adults were interviewed.