Survey finds pessimism about future

March 01, 2009|By Kellie Woodhouse | Kellie Woodhouse,kellie.woodhouse@baltsun.com

The year 2018 might seem a long way out, but Anne Arundel County residents appear to have clear visions of what life will be like then, according to survey conducted recently by Anne Arundel Community College's Institute for the Future.

People are worried. Residents predict that energy costs will continue to rise, more population will lead to increased traffic congestion, and illegal immigration and crime will go up. And the economy won't recover significantly in 10 years, either.

These were the major findings when AACC surveyed 312 county residents over the age of 18 about their expectations for 2018.

Steven Steele, future studies and sociology professor and the faculty administrator of the project, said people often have difficulty considering abstract concepts, such as the future, outside the scope of their lives, which leads to negative outlooks.

"I anticipated, in a way, people using the present and projecting it out 10 years," Steele said, adding that "many of the issues are current issues."

Similarly, Steele contended that a person's perception of the future affects his or her actions, making attitudes self-fulfilling prophecies.

"I think the future is often a function of what people anticipate and expect," said Steven Henick, the institute's director. "If people are worried about crime and the economy, then people are going to react to that. ... That could mean that people are going to leave Anne Arundel County and go to a place where the economy is better."

Residents, however, are optimistic about national and local security and believe that funding for public transportation and education will improve in the county. One "fascinating surprise" the survey revealed, Steele said, is that residents are expecting social equality to increase within the county.

"All that stuff about negative environment, problems with the economy, traffic congestion - when it all comes down to it, life ain't that bad," Steele said.

Steele also said that those who had an optimistic outlook for 2018 were residents who "maintained family and spiritual life, respect for God, traditional values and the rights of individuals." These people tend to think more positively about their personal futures, he said.

Gina Finelli, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and former instructor at AACC who follows the institute's work, said the study "gives people a better understanding about how to approach the future and think about it."

Steele and Henick said reflection is one of the main reasons the institute exists. One of their goals, they said, is to piece together the survey's results and provide people with information for their consideration.

"As people think about the future," Henick said, "they invent the future."

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