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Consumer concern: Arkansans are more concerned about the national economy than they are about the state's.

Most of the Arkansans polled in the latest Arkansas Consumer Sentiment Survey said their financial status will be no worse at this time next year.

The quarterly survey was conducted Feb. 12-19 by the Arkansas Institute for Economic Advancement and the Arkansas Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The telephone survey contacted 457 Arkansans.

A few more Arkansas residents have a positive attitude about the economy than was the case three months ago when the previous survey was conducted.

About 17 percent of those surveyed in February thought they were better off than they were a year ago, 49 percent thought they were in the same shape and 34 percent thought they were worse off.

But that's a slight improvement over November's survey. Results then indicated that 16 percent of respondents thought they were better off and 35 percent thought they were worse off.

A national poll conducted at the same time by the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor yielded similar results. Thirty percent of the Americans polled said they were better off, 31 percent said they were the same and 39 percent said they were worse off than a year ago.

The UALR survey shows "there's a little more positive feeling about the Arkansas economy this quarter than there was last year," according to Ronald Hy, one of the investigators.

He quickly adds, however, "There's room for improvement."

Consumer attitudes toward the purchase of major durable goods -- household items and automobiles -- showed the most improvement. Forty-one percent of the respondents said it was a good time to buy household items, an increase of almost 50 percent from November. Forty-two percent said it was a bad time to make such purchases, down from 60 percent in November.

Almost 45 percent of respondents thought it was a good time to buy a new car or truck, up more than 10 percent from last quarter's survey. Just more than 47 percent thought it was a bad idea to purchase a vehicle, down from last year's 54 percent.

Worried About The U.S.

Arkansans tended to worry more about the national economy than the Arkansas economy.

Just more than 57 percent were most concerned with the U.S. economy, 18 percent were most concerned with the Arkansas economy and 25 percent were most concerned with their local economies.

Thirty-two percent of the Arkansans polled in last quarter's survey were more interested in their local economies, and 48 percent were more concerned with the U.S. economy.

"It could have something to do with the media," says John Shelnutt, a senior research specialist with the Arkansas Institute for Economic Advancement. "Clearly, |consumers~ can recognize that California and New England are in worse shape |than~ Arkansas. If Arkansas were as bad as those places, we would have seen multiple layoffs by now ... the sort of things we saw in 1987."

It was 1987 when Arkansans last felt the pains of a severe statewide recession. There were five state budget cuts that fiscal year.

Shelnutt is "guardedly optimistic" about the results of the survey.

"If you look at national chain sales, they are picking up, and that indicates consumers at the national level are spending again," he says.

Improved retail sales in February and increased factory orders may be the harbinger of better times nationally, Shelnutt says.

"When you get all the measures going up in the same reporting period, that's when everybody will realize there's a recovery," he says.

More than 75 percent of Arkansans said they were not delaying large purchases for fear of losing their jobs.

Broken down by race, 20 percent of white respondents said they were delaying their large purchases, compared with 36 percent of black respondents.

Fifty-two percent of the respondents were female and 48 percent were male. About 84 percent of those surveyed were white, and 15 percent black.

Almost 40 percent of the households surveyed had incomes of $20,000 or less. The median Arkansas household income in 1990 was $22,786.

State Of The State

The latest revenue summaries from the state Department of Finance and Administration indicate that Arkansans should indeed worry more about the national economy than the state economy.

Gross state general revenues for February were $155.6 million, an increase of almost 17 percent over the same month last year. Revenues were $4.1 million above DF&A forecasts.

Meanwhile, collections of the gross receipts tax for February totaled $77.4 million, a 20 percent increase over the same month a year ago. The gross receipts tax includes the state sales tax, gross receipts tax permits, the use tax, the mixed drink tax and the beverage excise tax.

Figures released last week by DF&A's Office of Economic Analysis and Tax Research show that Arkansas ranked high in employment figures in December. The manufacturing job growth index that month placed the state fifth nationally.

"Only 11 states showed significant growth in manufacturing," says Joseph LaFace, research administrator for DF&A.

Arkansas also ranked fifth in non-agricultural job growth, according to figures compiled by the Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University at Tempe. The state was 11th in construction job growth, down from fourth the previous December.

Some Western states such as California and Nevada are experiencing employment downturns, LaFace says.

One example of Arkansas benefiting is the recent announcement by officials of the California-based R&G Sloane Co. that the company will build a $25 million plant at the Little Rock Port Industrial Park. The plant eventually will employ 500 people, consolidating the operations of four existing R&G Sloane facilities outside Arkansas.

"Some of the businesses states are now seeing are businesses that are packing up and leaving California," LaFace says.
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Title Annotation:consumer survey
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 16, 1992
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