Pew survey finds optimism about Phila. even in bad job market

I’m not big on polls, whether they purport to predict the outcome of a political race or who’d buy a particular product.

Given that what people say and what they do are two different things, I tend to put more stock in reports about actual consumer spending than consumer sentiment. Still, mood does matter, because it affects all sorts of decision-making.

So I was intrigued by some of the responses in the latest poll about Philadelphians’ thoughts on the direction of the city and their experience during the recession and recovery.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative asked 1,602 residents in a telephone survey in January about the city’s prospects. Now, the cliche of “Negadelphia” would suggest we fear the worst. However, 41 percent of respondents said the city was headed in the right direction, while 34 percent thought it had jumped onto the wrong track.

Since I’m an optimist at heart, it’s great to hear that there are more Philadelphians excited by what’s ahead than fearing what’s next.

Oddly, the poll also found that 49 percent of respondents indicated that either they or someone in their household had been without a job and looking for work during the last 12 months.

That’s an astounding number, and far more than government statistics would suggest. The unemployment rate in the city topped out at 11.1 percent in October, and estimates of underemployment are usually six or seven percentage points higher than that.

Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative, said the answer probably lies in how respondents interpreted “household” as perhaps “family.” Also, the survey sample did include a high percentage of unemployed - 21 percent of respondents described themselves as jobless and looking for work.

So why the optimism about the city? Eichel said other data support the notion that Philadelphians perceive the economic muddle as a national phenomenon, rather than local one.

Even though their personal financial situation may have suffered, residents don’t blame the mayor or the city for the bad job environment. For now, the glass remains half-full.