People in the Fort Smith region appear to be uncertain about personal finances and the overall economy, according to the most recent The Consumer Compass Report.
Of the almost 600 Fort Smith regional residents surveyed in late May, 13% said their financial situation was better than a year ago, up from 12% in the survey conducted in late February. However, 43% said their financial situation was worse than a year ago, up from the 38.5% in the February survey.
The survey, conducted for The City Wire by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College, is a supplement to The Compass Report — the first comprehensive economic analysis of the Fort Smith region launched by The City Wire and presenting sponsor Benefit Bank in the first quarter of 2009. Other sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In the inaugural survey conducted Aug. 31, 2010, 11.5% and 41% of respondents said their financial condition was better off and worse, respectively, than a year ago.
“There has been a remarkable amount of consistency in the polling data on these subjects during the course of a year. Unfortunately, citizens in the Fort Smith region remain fairly pessimistic about economic conditions as it would appear that little has been done to recover from the psychological cliff we fell off of in the recession of 2008 and 2009,” noted Roby Brock, with Talk Business Research. Brock, with his Talk Business website, also is a content partner with The City Wire.
Survey results also show that a majority of residents (54%) view their current and expected financial situation to improve or stay the same. However, the poll did indicate a shift in a small number of those surveyed who now feel that the situation is worsening.
“As a matter of fact, we see the highest number of negative opinions on personal finances (Current — 43% and Future — 38%) than we've ever seen,” Brock explained.
The negative opinion growth is reinforced by another question that suggests the most dissatisfaction to date about the regional business environment. Over the course of a year, confidence level about the actions of local governments in the region being good for job growth have dropped from an anemic 12% to only 6% in the latest The Consumer Compass poll. When combined with those who think the actions of local leaders to promote business are "okay, but could be better," the total — just 48% — dips below the 50% threshold for the first time.
“This is not to suggest that there is no job creation activity taking place, it is to suggest that citizens do not perceive there is action,” Brock noted. “While there have been some decent job announcements in the region in recent months, there is likely a psychological effect of a consistently high unemployment and perhaps the perception of lost opportunities from events like Congressional redistricting, the post office closure, and the exit of high-paid executives at Golden Living. More polling would be required to understand this issue more fully.”
The bright spot — even if marginally — in The Consumer Compass Report is that people in the Fort Smith region are more optimistic about improvement in the national economy.
Of the regional residents surveyed in late May, 15% believe the U.S. economy will improve in the next year, up from 14% in the survey conducted in late February. Also, 52% believe the U.S. economy will decline in the next year, down from the 56.5% in the February survey.
The Consumer Compass Report — The City Wire Poll
Conducted by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College on May 19 and May 22
559 Respondents in the Greater Fort Smith Region
Margin of Error +/- 4.1%
Q1. How would you describe your personal financial situation? Are you better off financially, worse off, or about the same as you were one year ago?
3% Don’t know
Q2. Now looking ahead — do you think that one year from now your personal financial situation will be better off, worse off, or about the same?
8% Don’t know
Q3. Turning to business conditions in the Fort Smith region as a whole — do you think that during the next year, local business conditions will get better, get worse or stay about the same?
8% Don’t know
Q4. What about the U.S. economy? During the next year, do you think business conditions in the United States will get better, get worse or stay about the same?
7% Don’t know
Q5. Considering the regional business environment, do you believe the actions and policies of county and local governments in the Fort Smith region are good for business and job growth, bad for business and job growth, or somewhere in between?
42% OK, but could be better
16% Don’t know
Q6. Considering the state business environment, do you believe the actions and policies of state government officials — elected and appointed — are good for business and job growth, bad for business and job growth, or somewhere in between?
43% OK, but could be better
15% Don’t know
Q7. Considering the national business environment, do you believe the actions and policies of federal government officials — elected and appointed — are good for business and job growth, bad for business and job growth or somewhere in between?
44% OK, but could be better
10% Don’t know
Notes on Raw Data:
2% Under the age of 30
9% Between the ages of 30 and 44
40% Between the ages of 45 and 64
49% 65 or older
3% African American
1% Asian American
92.5% Caucasian or White
54% Less than $50,000
21.5% $50,000 - $75,000
13.5% $75,001 - $100,000
11% More than $100,000
30.5% High school degree or less
32% High school degree and some college, but no degree
12% Two-year (associate’s) degree
15.5% Four-year college degree
10% Masters degree or higher