Minnesota residents’ concerns about the economy apparently have eased, and education and government budgets now top the list of what people worry about when it comes to the state’s quality of life, according to a new Wilder Research report.
Wilder asked 404 Minnesota residents in December to name three concerns regarding the state’s quality of life. More than half included education. Government budgets, the economy and health care were named by more than a third.
In contrast, when Wilder asked the same question in late 2009, the economy topped the list and only a third mentioned education.
The results make sense. As 2009 closed out, Minnesota’s unemployment rate stood at 7.7 percent (seasonally unadjusted). After dropping steadily through 2010, it reached 6.8 percent in December. At the same time, the state’s budget problems have loomed larger, and K-12 education is a prime feature in any state budget discussion.
Two out of three people in the telephone survey told questioners that they think the state’s budget troubles have reached crisis stage and that difficult decisions have to be made. A third said they would not support tax increases as part of those decisions but close to 60 percent would if they were convinced the system were fair and they were getting more for their money.
Priorities for changing the way the state delivers services? K-12 education and health care for children, the poor, disabled people and the elderly, respondents said.
The survey also delved into a place these temperature-taking efforts often neglect — pain and sacrifice.
Asked what they would be willing to put up with if they got more cost-effective government services, half the respondents said they could accept “getting used to a new way of doing things” and more than half said they would be OK if they had to do more for themselves.
Less popular were such consequences as less convenience (think waiting in line longer), putting government workers out of their jobs and having less regulation and inspections.
Here are the consequences numbers:
To what extent are you willing to live with this consequence if government services become more cost effective? Percentages are those respondents who said they would be willing to deal with the consequence in all cases.
Doing more for yourself — 59%
Getting used to a new way of doing things — 51%
Change in location of services — 37%
Less convenience — 29%
Loss of government jobs — 27%
Less regulation and inspection — 22%
The Wilder survey was sponsored by the Bush Foundation as part of an effort to understand what people think about their quality of life and how well equipped they think their communities are to deal with challenges.
Despite the challenges, respondents were more likely this past December to say they have a sense that the quality of life is improving, particularly at the community level. Thirty percent said life in their communities was getting better, compared to 24 percent who said life in the state was getting better. For both, those figures were about double from a year earlier.
One of the Bush Foundation’s goals in sponsoring the Wilder survey is to explore the question of community leadership. Exact comparisons with national data are hard to make, but Wilder researchers say Minnesotans tend to have greater trust in their leaders than does the nation as a whole.
In particular, Minnesotans express high levels of trust in leaders in law enforcement, higher education and charitable organizations. They have their lowest levels of trust in leaders in labor unions, the media and state government.
The survey has a 5 percent margin of error.