Many in NJ glad 2011 over, optimistic about 2012

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:10

    JACKSON — For many New Jerseyans, 2011 was a year they would rather forget. The state was hard hit by the struggling economy, which cost thousands their jobs and their homes. Many were forced to cut back on spending and make other sacrifices. Residents also dealt with severe weather, including several monster winter storms, which dropped snow that was counted in feet, not inches, and major flooding that forced thousands to flee their homes. New Jersey residents also were hammered by Irene, a deadly tropical storm and one of the costliest in U.S. history. But despite the fiscal and personal hardships they've faced in the past 12 months, many are optimistic things will improve in 2012. They see signs of life in the nation's economy, and a confidence buffeted by everything they overcame in 2011. Sixteen-year-old Kyralee Scott is among them. She says she's very glad to see 2011 fade away. Really, really glad. The Jackson resident said her father lost his New York-based job in the financial industry in the summer of 2010, and had been out of work until he got a new job at a local bank in early October of 2011. Her mother had a "health scare" earlier in the year and had to take an extended leave from her teaching job. "We never came close to losing our house or going on welfare because my parents have always been good about saving money, so we had enough to get by," said Scott, who has a 19-year-old sister and a 12-year-old brother. "But we did have to cut back and get used to a tighter budget." "I used to go to the movies every week and out to eat with friends a couple times a week, but that quickly changed to maybe once a month," she said. "And my dad used to treat me to coffee at Starbucks a lot, but that had to stop as well." Scott said her family plans a low-key New Year's Eve celebration with some neighbors. And they're thankful that their life is slowly getting better and back to normal. "Once the ball drops, I won't give 2011 another thought. It was a pretty tough year, but God was looking after us, and I know 2012 has got to be better." For 57-year-old Frank Taggart, 2011 was a year of personal reinvention. Taggart had worked at a glass factory for 25 years, working his way up to shift supervisor and what he called ``a comfortable, middle-class life.'' But when the factory shut down in February 2011, he was suddenly out of work and had few options for employment. "I'm too young to retire, and even if I wanted to, I doubt I could make it in this state without a full-time job. It's just too expensive here," Taggart said Saturday as he sipped coffee outside a convenience store in Hamilton Township (Mercer County). "I soon realized I had to make some changes if I wanted to find work." Taggart said he went to a technical school to learn about auto repair and got a job as a mechanic at a local car dealership this summer. He's only making about 75 percent of what he used to make, but he's not complaining. "I know I have a paycheck coming every other week," he said. "A lot of the people I used to work with are still looking for full-time stuff, still struggling. I was only out of work a few months, I'm one of the lucky ones."