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Study reveals how Kentucky families are being impacted by economy

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By The Staff

A new University of Kentucky study found that Kentuckians, like other Americans, face economic uncertainty this holiday season. Nearly 70 percent reported a change in lifestyle due to the economy with over half of Kentucky’s households having trouble buying things they want for themselves or their children during this holiday season.

The study, “The Impact of Current Economic Circumstances on Individuals and Families in Kentucky,” was authored by professor Claudia Heath and graduate student Jennifer Hunter of the UK Family Sciences Survey Research Center in the Department of Family Studies. It was based on a statewide random sample of 321 Kentuckians participating in a telephone survey.

In short, the goal of the research was to determine the impact of the current economy on households in Kentucky. The survey began after Election Day and concluded the week prior to the Christmas holiday, recognizing that this is a period when many family rituals and expectations might place further strain on already strapped individuals.

Some of the study’s findings are detailed below.

The current economic situation is taking its toll on families. When asked how they were feeling about the effects of the economy on themselves and their family, 35 percent reported feeling “okay for now, but do not like it.” Yet, 22 percent reported “feeling sad, blue, or worried” and 26 percent reported being “unhappy or concerned.” Only 17 percent responded an optimistic “think about it, but know things are fine.”

A large majority of Kentuckians are personally feeling the effects of the economy, nearly 60 percent reported their financial well-being as okay for now, but concerned, while 22 percent are either at-risk of big financial problems or desperate and not sure what to do. Twenty percent described their financial well-being as fine and they believe the economy will work out okay. Furthermore, 48 percent of the sample reported their family as worse-off financially than one-year ago, while 38 percent are in the same financial condition and 14 percent better-off.

Nearly 70 percent of those responding reported a change in lifestyle due to the economy. Many families are cutting back, only purchasing necessities instead of luxury items. The most commonly reported cutbacks include reducing the amount spent on clothing, entertainment, travel, hobbies and recreation. Furthermore, many people have reported eating out less often, with 54 percent eating less fast-food and almost 60 percent eating out less at a restaurant compared to this time last year.

Fifty-three percent of Kentucky households with children reported having trouble buying things they want for themselves or their children. With the holiday season approaching, about 10 percent indicated having trouble buying holiday gifts. However, items such as groceries, insurance, clothes, and a college education were cited frequently also.

National attention has focused on four primary factors affecting the economy, including high gasoline and diesel fuel prices, declining stock values, limited credit availability, and a failing mortgage loan market. To measure the extent to which these problems are being felt in Kentucky, respondents were asked if their families had personally experienced problems as a result of each of these issues. Over 70 percent responded they had experienced problems from high gasoline or diesel fuel prices, followed by 48 percent experienced problems as a result of declining stock prices. However, mortgage loan and credit availability have had the least impact, where 11 percent and 14 percent experienced problems, respectively.

For more information about the study, contact Claudia Heath at (859) 257-7737 or Jennifer Hunter at (859) 576-2593.