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Poll: Few feel they're losing in economic slowdown
By Andrew Haeg, Minnesota Public Radio
July 13, 2001
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A new Minnesota Public Radio/Pioneer Press poll shows the majority of Minnesotans believe their family's financial health is about the same as it was a year ago, despite the economic slowdown.

Most of those surveyed for the poll say they're better off economically than a year ago. See entire poll results.
THE NATIONAL JOBLESS RATE is at its highest level since 1992, and unemployment in Minnesota is on the rise too. Corporations continue to lay off workers and deliver poor earnings reports. Yet Minnesotans don't seem too worried.

Sixty percent of respondents said their financial situation has stayed the same in the past year.

"The economy has been hurt, but I don't know if there's just a lag in reaching down to me or if somehow I'm a little more insulated from it than most, but things seem to be about the same," says Bob White, 43, a self-employed wildlife artist living in Marine on St. Croix. He's one of 627 people contacted last week in the MPR/Pioneer Press Poll.

White says business is good, and his spending habits are about the same as they were a year ago. He hears a lot of talk of layoffs, but to White and his wife, it's a bit of an abstraction. "We're concerned about other people, and so when we hear that and see that we wonder naturally what that would be like and feel some empathy with those folks. But to be honest with you, being self-employed, we spend so much our time and energy being focused on our own program."

State Economist Tom Stinson says White's attitude is typical of poll respondents, and evidence of the old economic axiom, that "an economic slump is when you're hearing that other people are being laid off, a recession is when your neighbor's laid off, and a depression is when you're laid off," Stinson says. "As long as you're not being affected directly, your attitude is less likely change than if you're affected."

For now, Stinson says most people haven't seen any substantial direct impacts of the slowdown.

Take Stacey Stacey Braegelman, 34, a stay-at-home mother who lives with her husband and two children near Monticello. She says her family is frugal, and doesn't buy on credit. She hears of other people falling on hard times, but isn't experiencing any herself. "When I see people, I feel like a lot of people just try to live outside their means. We're not people who do that. We haven't really seen a problem with it," she says.

"I don't think there's a big disconnect about what people are doing and how people feel about the economy. The economy is still fundamentally sound, it's just that we're slowing down from a peak that we had for a number of years."

- Tom Stinson
Braegelman's husband works in the printing industry, which has seen some layoffs, but he isn't overly concerned about his future. To Stinson, that people like the Braegelman's remain fairly optimistic in a time of economic troubles isn't all that surprising. "I don't think there's a big disconnect about what people are doing and how people feel about the economy. The economy is still fundamentally sound, it's just that we're slowing down from a peak that we had for a number of years," he says.

Some poll respondents said they making some changes in their spending habits in recognition of the economic slowdown. Lyle Felsh, 55, is a deputy fire chief for the city of Rochester. "The only thing that we have really taken a look at is to reduce how far we are extended on credit," he says.

The Felsh's decision to ease off on using their credit cards may be indicative of a larger phenomenon among Minnesotans. Despite a national trend toward higher consumer debt, 76 percent of poll respondents said their debt has not become more burdensome in the past year.

Looking ahead, 67 percent of respondents said they expect to be in the same economic position a year from now, and 16 percent said they'd be better off.

Dave Klein, 49, of White Bear Lake, works as a computer consultant. He's watched with interest as the economy has sputtered, but it hasn't bothered him. "It's been so good for so many years that I don't care if it does go down. You expect some bumps in life. So I'm not worrying about what's going to occur a year from now, because I've banked so many good years now," he says.

To Klein, the current slump is merely temporary. And he's got some company among professional forecasters. Wells Fargo Chief Economist Sung Won Sohn said last week the economy appears to be on its way back up.