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Utahns feel secure on job, survey finds

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Amid a skidding economy and the prospect of a prolonged war on terrorism, a majority of Utahns believe they are not at risk of losing their jobs, according to a new Deseret News/KSL poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates.

Of 400 people surveyed last week, 62 percent of respondents said their current job was "very secure." In addition, 30 percent said their job was "somewhat secure."

Contributing to the state's optimism is a jobless rate that continues to trail the national average.

"Your unemployment last month was 3.8 percent. Nationally it was 4.9 percent. Here (in Oregon) it is 6.3 percent, one of the highest in the country," said John Mitchell, an economist for U.S. Bank's Western region, from his Portland office.

"Utah has been so strong for so long. The last actual decline in employment (growth) in Utah was in the mid-'60s. Other places don't have that kind of experience," Mitchell said. "Obviously you've seen the closure at Gateway and weakness in the technology sector that you see in other places, but (Utah's) overall labor market seems to be relatively tight."

Yet not everyone agrees the state's current job climate is secure.

"My feeling is that we are showing a substantial increase in the number of layoffs occurring," said Allan Ayoub, a labor liaison for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Nationally, more people may agree with Ayoub than Mitchell, according to new data released Tuesday.

Figures from the Conference Board, a New York-based business group, showed that consumer confidence toppled in September as the Consumer Confidence Index sank to its lowest level in 5 1/2 years — to 97.6 from a revised 114.0 in August.

The new figure was based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households surveyed before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

In the survey, fewer consumers rated business conditions as "favorable." And the percent of consumers anticipating business conditions to worsen increased from 10.7 percent to 15.0 percent.

Mitchell said the terrorist attacks were enough to push the already teetering U.S. economy into a recession, but he predicted the slump would likely be short-lived.

"We've already got the monetary and fiscal policies in place that are likely going to end it. People have been reducing inventories for a while. The things that were going to make growth pick up were already here," he said. "The short-run implications are very negative in the sense of the disruptions associated with what is going on in the airline business, hotel, travel and tourism."

Much of the current downturn had its beginnings in spring 2000, when financial markets began to lose ground followed by a downturn in business investment, which has fallen now for three consecutive quarters.

Yet the recent terrorist attacks and massive airline industry layoffs have done little to alter Utahns' notions of personal income growth.

Twenty-six percent of Utahns polled by Dan Jones & Associates last week said their income would "definitely grow" in the next year. Another 21 percent said it would "probably grow."

Only 13 percent said their income would "probably" or "definitely" decline, with 37 percent saying their income would "stay about the same."

The poll has an error rate of plus or minus 5 percent.

Nationally, 21.1 percent of Americans expected an increase in their families' income, down from 23.2 percent in August, according to the Consumer Confidence Index.

But as consumer confidence wanes and the consumer debt service burden (fraction of income that goes to pay mortgage and installment debt) reaches a 12-year high, a slowdown in spending may send the economy keeling over.

"As the economic ramifications of Sept. 11 continue to reverberate in the coming weeks and months, and the number of layoffs continues to rise, the economy faces tougher times ahead. While consumers have managed to keep the U.S. out of a recession for several years now, that soon may no longer be the case," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's Consumer Research Center, in a news release.

Despite the darkening clouds overhead, Mitchell predicts stronger growth in 2002 than this year.

"We are going through a bubble," he said. "We had this major run-up in equity prices without earnings, and now we've got disappointed expectations. But over time the production capacity of the U.S. economy is still intact. Technology continues to march on, and ultimately there will be more investment, but we have to work through the excesses of the last few years."

E-mail: danderton@desnews.com