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Economic slump makes boomers nervous
But poll shows Liberals still riding high
Les Whittington
OTTAWA BUREAU
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OTTAWA - Most Canadians are weathering the current economic storm with surprising confidence, but baby boomers are deeply nervous about their future, according to a new national poll.

The survey, conducted by EKOS Research Associates Inc. for The Toronto Star, CBC and La Presse, found that the public's outlook remains rosy despite stock market turbulence and a raft of alarming layoffs.

At the same time, the pollster said the federal Liberals are reaping the benefits of Canadians' persistently optimistic view of the economy. That optimism helps explain the continuing strong standing of the Liberals, who received 52.6 per cent of decided voter support in the survey, the pollster said.

The poll found boomers and those of pre-retirement age are a glaring exception to the optimism of the rest of the population, with many of them fearing for their jobs, their pensions and their ability to recover from staggering stock market losses.

EKOS found that 40 per cent of those between the ages of 45 and 64 believe they have ``lost all control'' of their economic future.

``When they think about retirement and the idea of `freedom 55,' comparing their meagre savings against the prospects of trying to maintain their lifestyle, they're probably thinking about `freedom 95' now,'' EKOS president Frank Graves said. Young people, though, exhibit more optimism. Only 21 per cent of those below the age of 25 told pollsters they had lost control of their economic future.

``Overall, we find that optimism on economic security - and, in particular, confidence in labour markets - remain remarkably strong,'' Graves said.

At the same time, nearly three-quarters of Canadians are concerned that the country is turning into a more divided society of haves and have-nots as it becomes increasingly like the United States, EKOS found.

The company surveyed 3,004 Canadians across the country this month on their economic outlook, making the findings accurate within plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Of those surveyed, 46 per cent said they had not ``lost all control'' of their economic future, while 33 per cent said they felt they had. (Twenty per cent had no response.)

And, when asked if they expect to lose their job in the next few years, 57 per cent said they had no such worry, while 28 per cent expressed concern.

The findings were in keeping with a general long-term decline in Canadians' economic fears since 1997, when nearly half of all Canadians felt they were in danger of winding up unemployed.

``Canadians don't seem to be particularly panicked by the turmoil that's going on on equity markets,'' Graves said.

Since last year, the Toronto Stock Exchange has wiped out billions of dollars in value in a tumble that has eliminated fully one-third of its total worth.

And the economy has been shedding thousands of jobs in recent months even though the unemployment rate has remained steady at 7 per cent because some people have stopped looking for work.

Canadians ``are cognizant of the fact that there is something perhaps amiss and we see some rise in the uncertainty levels,'' Graves commented. ``But it's less impressive than the continued level of sustained confidence out there.''

The poll also sought to measure Canadians' feelings about the growing divide between rich and poor. A majority - 71 per cent - said they were worried about this trend, while 13 per cent said there was no reason for concern.



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