Nebraskans think the country has veered off onto a shaky economic track, but they're feeling pretty revved up about the prospects in their own hometown.
Nearly two-thirds of Nebraskans see a nation seriously on the wrong track, The World-Herald Poll shows.
Asked how things were going in their own community, 56 percent said very or fairly well, and only 10 percent were pessimistic.
On an individual level, nearly half of Nebraskans said their personal economic situation is about the same as it was four years ago. The rest were essentially split on whether they personally were doing better or worse.
Joe Gehrki, president of the Nebraska Realtors Association, said the poll reflects the consumer confidence he hears while traveling across the state for his job.
He said people feel more positive about local conditions, and he attributes that to a fiscally conservative Husker mentality that spared the state extreme swings in such areas as employment and housing prices.
“When other people hear we have the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation, they get downright mad,” Gehrki said.
Gehrki said that while the state's housing values this year won't achieve pre-recession annual gains of 4 percent to 6 percent, he expects they'll jump at least 2 percent — better than he has seen in the past five years. Meanwhile, he said, residents in many other states still reel from a more severe crash that sent home values plummeting after appreciation during the housing boom of 15 percent to 20 percent a year.
“We didn't get invited to that party — but we don't have the hangover, either,” Gehrki said.
Eric Thompson, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln economist who directs the Bureau of Business Research, said he sees a similar pattern among area business owners that he interviews: more optimism about their own business than for the industry in general.
Likewise, economist Scott Strain of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce said preliminary results of the chamber's annual economic outlook survey show that expectations are greater for the Omaha area than they are nationally.
“We're not as in debt as, say, California or Illinois,” he said. “A little more steady and stable is how we approach things here.”
Nationally, he said, “there is just more uncertainty.”
Conducted Sept. 17 through 20 by Wiese Research Associates of Omaha, the poll of 800 voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
It revealed that Nebraskans who earn more feel even better about their hometown's economy.
Nearly 70 percent of those in households making more than $100,000 said things were going very or fairly well in their community, and only 5 percent reported a negative viewpoint. Of those who earned less than $50,000, half said things were going well in their communities and 12 percent were pessimistic.
The younger those polled were, the better off they felt about their personal economic situation compared to four years ago.
Of those younger than 35, 40 percent said they were better off and 16 percent said they were worse. It was flip-flopped for the older crowd. About 18 percent of 55- to 65-year-olds felt better off today and 36 percent said their personal finances had worsened.
Financial planner Maria Sinley of Smith Hayes Financial Services Corp. said young people in Nebraska today are more educated and entrepreneurial, and seem to be finding opportunities locally. “Omaha has a lot of strong, big companies looking for young talent, so I could see in that frame of reference that young people would feel they are better off.”
Sarah Johnson, 29, can relate to the optimism.
Johnson, manager of the Greater Omaha Young Professionals group, was a freshman in college when the 9/11 attacks shook her confidence. Then came the Great Recession and continued uncertainty about whether programs like Social Security would be around for her generation.
Her contemporaries got used to the idea they'd be fending for themselves. They honed entrepreneurial and money management skills. Now Johnson sees the nation is climbing out of financial doldrums and addressing problems that led to the recession and housing collapse, so she feels an increased sense of control.
“I think we're laying some hard groundwork right now that is going to help us be better in the future,” she said. “I feel good; I feel like we're on the right path to recovery.”
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