A sign of hope

January 2010

Many Germans saw in 2010 popping corks and lighting fireworks. New Year’s resolutions included economic prosperity and the wish for 2010 to be a good year – unlike the last year, which was dominated by the economic crisis. An increasing number of people are starting to believe that this crisis could soon be overcome. Slowly, and still slightly cautiously, they are becoming hopeful.

The worst is behind us – with a huge sigh of relief, this was the feeling of 17% of Germans in December 2009. While this may seem to be a small percentage, in just half a year this is nearly a threefold increase in the number of optimists. However, the upsurge in mood has recently subsided somewhat. Conversely, the number of those fearing the future has fallen. In early summer of last year, 42% believed the worst of the crisis was yet to come, but six months later the figure has significantly declined to 24%. This is shown by the results of a survey conducted on behalf of the GfK Association, which last year repeatedly pursued the question of how deep in crisis citizens believed Germany to be. The percentage of those who think that the crisis has bottomed out in Germany remained constant at 36%, in both the summer months and December. It is a small consolation that this group believes that the downward spiral has ended.

The most optimism is felt by those where the household’s main earner has a secure job, and those who are relatively well situated or belong to the younger generation. Most commonly, respondents from these groups view the recession as a thing of the past. It is hardly surprising that people who feel well provided for or are young enough to deal with the challenges posed by the job market are more at ease with the future. However, even respondents in less stable situations became somewhat more hopeful as the year drew to a close.

Living with uncertainty: hope also increases among the less well off

Only a few months ago the view of the future largely depended on job security and bank balance. Those who feared for the loss of the permanent employment of the main breadwinner or had to get by on a tight budget were more pessimistic than average, but the state of affairs is slightly different now. Although optimism is increasing with rising security and higher bank balances, the crisis is also losing some of its fear factor among the less well off. In May, 53% of those worrying about the job security of the household’s main earner still believed “the worst is yet to come”. In December this figure had fallen to 28%, which was only slightly higher than that of respondents who felt secure in their job.

This is perhaps a result of damage limitation measures which have been introduced and implemented by the government. In particular, short-time working, state support and companies’ hopes that the economy will soon be kick-started again have all contributed to the job market escaping relatively unscathed. Short-term job security has also allowed people to feel somewhat hopeful.

East-West comparison: the gap is narrowing

Optimism has now also extended more broadly in East Germany. Well into autumn, this region was significantly lagging behind the West on the issue of optimism. In the West, the percentage of those with a pessimistic outlook declined to 26% in August and September, while 37% of those in the East remained skeptical. However, in the meantime this gap has almost closed again. Today, a total of 27% of East Germans fear that the trough of the crisis has not been reached yet, while opinion in the West is only slightly below this, at 23%.

How will things develop this year? Will the crisis actually continue to lose its fear factor, or will Germans remain under its shadow. Deciding factors will be the development of the job market and whether short time workers will become unemployed. In this regard, the New Year starts with a positive outlook. The job market has managed, in part, to hold out against the crisis, and as a result the number of unemployed only increased slightly in December, to approximately 3.3 million. While experts were positively surprised by these figures, this is not sufficient reason for getting the bubbly out again, but it may justify looking into the future more hopefully.

Data source: the GfK Association (Omnibus survey December 2009).

If you have any queries concerning this article or Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar,  e-mail: hello@nim.org.