Great Falls Tribune, April 16, 2008: Survey shows fiscal worries widespread

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By JOHN S. ADAMS Tribune Capitol Bureau

HELENA Results from a new survey released this week indicate that nearly one in three Montanans worry that their total family income will not be enough to meet their family’s expenses and bills in 2008, and the majority of those surveyed said they plan to take those economic concerns into the voting booth in 2008.

The report, part of a national survey by the Minneapolis-based Northwest Area Foundation, found that more than half of Montanans said that they are anxious about the economy both now and in the future.

As slowing housing markets, record numbers of home foreclosures, mounting debt, skyrocketing fuel prices and wavering stock markets continue to dominate state and national headlines, nearly half of the state’s residents rated their local economies as “fair” or “poor.” Additionally, more than half of those surveyed said they are worried that the economy will continue to worsen this year.

“Even though we’re more recession-free in Montana for this next year, the reporting of recession and discussion about recession is weighing on people’s minds and has got them worried,” said Terry Munson executive director of the Havre-based nonprofit group Opportunity Link. “So they do believe their jobs are going to be affected. Especially the people we work with.”

Opportunity Link provides funding to jumpstart or assist programs designed to eliminate poverty in northcentral Montana. The group won a $12 million Northwest Area Foundation grant in 2003 to help fight poverty in an 11-county region.

Gary Cunningham, vice president and chief programs officer for Northwest Area Foundation the group that commissioned the study said politicians and elected officials on the campaign trail would do well to pay attention to what voters saying about the economy and poverty.

“What we learned from this study is that at least 25 percent of the people are worried about how they are going to make ends meet,” Cunningham said. “People are going to take their concerns and their economic situation and this issue of poverty to the voting booth.

“I think Montanans believe that their politicians and policy makers should be taking this up and that they see the quality of life in their communities connected to how well their neighbors are fairing,” he added.

According to the survey, an overwhelming number of Montanans said economic concerns will be a key issue as they head to the polls this election season.

Eighty-nine percent said they probably will vote in the November election.

Eighty-eight percent said they think it is important for elected officials to help those who are struggling.

Seventy-four percent said they will take that belief with them to the voting booth.

Muson said those results don’t surprise him.

“I’ve been hearing that in discussions with people all the time this year,” Munson said. “They’re aware of what’s going on and very much aware of the process that we have for governance.”

Cunningham added that one of the study’s key findings was that while the federal government sets the poverty line at around $21,000 per year here, most people in Montana said it takes more than $40,000 for a family of four to make ends meet.

The survey found that:

Twenty-eight percent of respondents worry most or all of the time their total family income won’t be enough to meet bills.

Forty-eight percent rate the local economy as fair or poor.

Fifty-six percent say they are worried the economy might get worse in the next year.

Cunningham said one of the things that impressed him most about the study’s findings was that despite their own personal financial worries, the vast majority of Montanans reported that they would like to do more to help those who are struggling to make ends meet. For instance, 88 percent said they would like to do more to help people who are struggling in their communities, and 61 percent said they would pay $50 more per year in taxes if the money would go toward helping those people.

Those numbers didn’t surprise Munson either.

“I have to hand it to people in Montana; I think they keep a good optimistic outlook and are willing to talk about things we can do to make things better,” Munson said.

Reach Tribune Capitol Bureau Chief John S. Adams at 442-9493, or

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