Arkansans ‘quite leery’ of overall economy


FORT SMITH — A new consumer sentiment report indicates Arkansans are still a little burned from the Great Recession and view the improving economy with a cautious eye.

The inaugural report of the Arvest Bank Consumer Sentiment Survey released Thursday shows Arkansas has a consumer sentiment index of 67.4, trailing that of Missouri’s 68.6 and Oklahoma’s 76.4. The national index for June is 82.5.

The Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas conducted the survey. The University of Oklahoma’s Public Opinion Learning Laboratory took phone surveys of 1,200 people.

“Our initial readings indicate that consumers in the region, and especially in Arkansas, are quite leery about overall economic conditions in the near future, although they reported being relatively upbeat about their current financial status,” Kathy Deck, director and lead economist for the survey, stated in a news release.

The numbers appear consistent with the “contradictory nature” of Arkansas economic data for the first half of 2014 that show a declining labor force in the face of improving payroll employment.

According to the report, declines in the unemployment rate usually are considered positive overall but can also be accounted for by declines in the labor force.

“The level of non-farm employment for 2014 was at its highest point since the onset of the Great Recession, but was still more than 16,000 jobs below the peak,” the report states.

Personal income levels in Arkansas have grown faster than the national average since 2000 but declined at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 because of declines in farm income, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Mike Jacimore, senior vice president and sales manager for Arvest Bank of the Fort Smith/River Valley region, said the survey gives the bank more localized information to better understand economic trends.

“What is most important is simply knowing where people in the state stand in their views — especially because consumers drive the majority of economic activity,” Jacimore stated in the release.

Questions asked in the survey, which will be conducted twice a year, include perceptions about current and future finances, business conditions, plans to purchase major household items, current level of consumer debt, current and planned savings, and demographic information.

In both Arkansas and Oklahoma, the index number is slightly higher for those who do not own a home. Although the index is significantly higher in Arkansas for those who have a graduate degree — 81.7 over 60.8 — the index in Oklahoma is slightly higher for those with just a bachelor’s, 78.3 over 76.8 for those with a graduate degree.

For the unemployed in Oklahoma the index was about 10 points higher than Arkansas, 68 compared to 57.3. The Index by Presence of Children in the Home was also higher in Oklahoma at 81.9 compared to 69.5 in Arkansas. Those without children had an index of 66.4 in Arkansas and 69.4 in Oklahoma.

Younger Oklahomans, in the 18 to 24 age group, had the highest index number of the survey at 91.9. This was a drastic difference between Arkansans in the same age group, which showed 54.8 in the index. Oklahomans in the 25 to 44 age group was next with 82.0, followed by Arkansans in the 25 to 44 age group at 73.9.