Are you better off? Many say, 'Yes.'

We asked readers if they are doing better now than they were at the end of the 2001 recession and a surprising number indicated that they are.

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By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large

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Are you better off than you were seven years ago during the last economic downturn?
  • Yes
  • No
  • About the same

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Are you better off than you were at the end of the last recession? That's the question we've posed today on CNNMoney.com.

Now this is an admittedly unscientific poll. Nonetheless, the results so far are a bit surprising.

As of early afternoon Monday, a little more than 36,000 people had responded and 42% indicated they were better off now than in 2001, while 47% said they were worse off and 11% said they were about the same.

I would have expected that more than two-thirds of our readers would have indicated they were worse off.

According to the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 43% of Americans dubbed the economy as "very poor" while another 32% characterized it as "somewhat poor."

That's not too surprising. Housing prices have plummeted in many areas of the country. Inflation is now a major worry for most Americans as the price of gas and food is much higher than it was a year ago.

And many of this column's loyal readers love to call me out as Pollyanish, because I don't think the economy is inexorably headed towards a second Great Depression.

So what gives? How, in the midst of all this troubling economic news, could it be that this high a percentage of our readers say that they are better off now than they were seven years ago?

I have a few theories.

For one, the unemployment rate, while on the rise lately, is still not at a level that you'd typically find in a serious recession.

Yes, the exodus of many jobs overseas via outsourcing and the poor health of many manufacturing-related industries in the United States is undeniably a problem.

But other sectors have helped to offset some of the job losses in autos and other industrial sectors. The technology industry, for example, has enjoyed a healthy comeback since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. And as much as we all like to complain about high oil and gas prices, the commodities boom has also created many jobs in the energy sector.

Then there's the mortgage crisis. It's no doubt scary, but the simple fact remains that just a small fraction of homes are in foreclosure.

For people who didn't rely on their house as an ATM and treated it more as a place to live than as a short-term investment, the housing price drop is just a bump in the road, not an economic catastrophe.

Finally -- and this may not be a popular view with some of my colleagues -- I do think that one reason the economy is perceived as being in such dire straits is that there is a natural tendency among the media to focus more on the bad news than the good.

Simply put, it is more compelling to write stories about people who are struggling to get by than those that are getting by. So there are probably a lot of average middle class people out there who are paying their mortgage, credit card and car bills on time. You're not going to see profiles about them though.

Now don't get me wrong: The results of our poll still show that many people have been hit hard in this downturn. Plus, the economy could very well get worse before it turns around since it appears that the problems in the housing market and the resulting credit crunch are not over yet.

But the results of our poll seem to me to be yet another example of what I've been preaching in this column for the past few months: the economy is in rough shape but this is not the beginning of an epic collapse.

There are people out there that apparently have been able to save, invest and live within their means, which at the end of the day helps lead to financial security.

So instead of proselytizing that the end is nigh and complaining that things aren't as good as they used to be, they have just been hunkering down to make it through this downturn.  To top of page

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