March 22, 2004
All in how you look at it

The latest Texas poll on the economy can be summed up as follows: It still stinks, but not quite as bad as the last time you asked.

A year ago, 76 percent of those polled rated the U.S. economy as fair or poor. This year, the Texas Poll found that those with a gloomy outlook fell to 65 percent.

"It's moving in the right direction, but it's not where you want it to be," Tim Hopper, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Houston, said in reference to the U.S. economy.

Texans are feeling more optimistic about their personal lives as well, with 35 percent reporting they're better off today than they were a year ago. That's an improvement over the 28 percent who made that claim a year ago.


[T]he Houston economy, which remains highly dependent on the energy industry, still hasn't benefited from the upturn in energy prices. Energy companies are still reluctant to beef up exploration and production because many worry the high prices may not be sustainable.

Though job growth -- both in the state and nationally -- is nothing to brag about, other national economic indicators such as gross domestic product, industrial production or the manufacturing index of inventories and sales appear to be moving rapidly in the right direction, said Hopper.

At some point, job growth will improve, something Hopper believes will occur later this year. Increased productivity can only go so far until manufacturers hire extra people to fill the extra orders they're selling, he said.

I suppose that job growth will eventually improve, but we've been hearing it for awhile now. I still know too many people who are out of work or who had to move elsewhere to find it to feel personally optimistic. There's a quote later on that says the more-upbeat mood may come from surviving last year: "If I can make it through 2003 and I'm still working, I can make it through almost anything." Maybe, but it seems to me there's another edge to this sword - if things don't get appreciably better soon, people may start to feel desperate.

You can find the full survey, with historical trends, here (PDF). If you look, you'll notice that the real improvement occurred between spring and fall of 2003:

How would you rate economic conditions in this country today --
excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

Winter 2004 % (N= 1,000)
Excellent 4
Good 30 34 (excellent/good)
Fair 41
Poor 24 65 (fair/poor)

Fall 2003 % (N=1,000)
Excellent 3
Good 29 32 (excellent/good)
Fair 38
Poor 29 67 (fair/poor)

Winter (February) 2003 (N=1,000)
Excellent 2
Good 21 23 (excellent/good)
Fair 41
Poor 35 76 (fair/poor)

Make of that what you will.

The silliest spin on this I've heard came from the newsreader on KHPT radio this morning, who chirped that 71% of people thought things were "good or fair". I guess no one explained to him what "fair" means in this context.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 22, 2004 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack