Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's all a matter of perspective

Patrick Murray at Monmouth points out that in the latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll the numbers of those saying NJ is an excellent or good place to live at pretty low compared to historic numbers. And of course that is what the data show, so Patrick is correct. But there is more context to this than simply that number and its trend over time. As Patrick also points out, the percentage who say they take pride in the state and who say they would move out of state if they could have changed little.

But here's the context. This latest poll was asked in the middle of the the worst recession since the depression 80 years ago, and in the middle of one of the most acrimonious debates over the state budget and the future of the state in a long time. Frankly it is fascinating that the numbers look as good as they do in this context.

Of course trends can give useful information. But trends are meaningless without the context in which they operate. And our focus for this poll was on where we are right now, which seems pretty good in light of all of the "stuff" going on around the state and all of the personal challenges individuals are facing.

Not long ago, kind of buried in this Rutgers-Eagleton release we listed some questions about how worried NJ residents are about various economic issues: 36% worry a lot about credit card debt, 36% worry a lot about the availability of good housing, 62% worry a lot about health insurance coverage, and 64% worry a lot about the availability of a good job. Yet in spite of all these worries, most like it here in NJ and most take pride in the state.

So yes, the "place to live" question shows a decline over time, especially recently. But put that decline in the context of right now - and in the context that other indicators are stable - and frankly I was surprised that as many people were positive as there are. But then maybe I am too much of an optimist about things.

And I will bet that once the economy picks up and whatever changes Christie brings about have time to settle in (which could be a while, I suppose), the "good place to live" numbers will move back up.

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