Recession Has Changed Lifestyles, Poll Shows

By Nancy Trejos and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The recession has forced a majority of Americans to alter their lifestyles, and many are upset about it, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Still, many are optimistic about their financial prospects over the next year.

Overall, 56 percent of survey respondents said the recession has caused them to make significant changes in the way they are living. A quarter said they are "angry" or "upset" about having to do so .

The sentiment cut across gender, racial, income and political lines. Overall, majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents said the recession has had a deep impact on their lives, and many acknowledged being agitated.

"We know that fear and anger are linked emotions," said Matt Wallaert, a behavioral psychologist at, a free online personal financial advisory service. "It's natural that at a time like this when everything seems uncertain, fear is going to produce anger."

For much of the decade, Americans grew used to soaring real estate values, a booming stock market and healthy job prospects. Now, they find themselves in a situation many have never experienced. According to the survey, 66 percent have lost a job or have seen someone close to them get laid off or lose a job, and 71 percent have had their wages or hours cut or seen it happen to a close friend or relative.

"It's understandable that people are angry because they were sold an American Dream that doesn't exist anymore," Wallaert said.

Ali Mahdavi, 46, left his homeland of Iran in 2000 to pursue that dream. He became a general contractor, painting and renovating kitchens and bathrooms. There was plenty of work during the real estate boom, so much so that he earned enough to buy a condo and then a townhouse.

Last year, the work slowed down and he had to close his showroom. He divorced and moved out of the house. With little money coming in, he moved in with a roommate until he found a one-bedroom apartment. He gave up his car and health insurance. He no longer eats out. He has not had steady work in five months.

"My life has changed completely," he said. "I had to make my life more economical."

That said, he is trying to remain optimistic. According to the poll, a majority of the survey respondents are optimistic. Two-thirds said they believe their fortunes will improve in the next 12 months.

"It'll be back," Mahdavi said of the economy. "I believe life is not in our control. Life is a journey . . . Sometimes you go uphill, sometimes downhill. I'm not angry. Things happen."

David Forrest, an architect in Richmond, is not so serene. He, too, has been getting less work.

"I'm just so angry that we have a system that seems to perpetuate the up-and-down stuff," he said. "Whatever happened to the decade-long of okay instead of the fantastic or the terrible?"

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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