There are many ways to measure recessions beyond the dryly statistical "two consecutive quarters of negative change in Gross National Product" - the official federal definition of a recession.
For instance, if your particular stock, bond or mutual fund isn't doing well, you figure the economy is on the skids. Or if you've been trying to sell your house for a year and no one's made an offer, you blame it on the economic downturn.Then there's your job. If you lose it, you don't need to ask an economist if there's a recession going on. Maybe your neighbors don't know the bad old times have returned - they're still employed - but there is no doubt in your mind.
There has been a lot of upbeat talk in recent months about Utah being "recession proof" - or at least in a better position to ride out the economic downturn that has hit other areas of the country.
Don't tell that to the 3,713 former employees at Eastern Airlines, Rockwell International, Geneva Steel, Hercules Inc., Unisys, Hill Air Force Base and employees at other companies in Utah who have been given their walking papers since November.
They're liable to say something rude to you.
For some out-of-work Utahns - those whose savings are gone and whose unemployment insurance has run out - their own personal recession has been going on much longer.
Robert C. Watts lost his job as vice president of a local clothing manufacturing firm over a year ago in a "restructuring" - that innocent word that sounds good if you're talking about companies making themselves leaner and more competitive but spells disaster for those who get caught by the corporate pruning shears.
Watts, 51, says his perception of the Utah economy is that it is "not too hot." It's tough to find a job, he said, especially if you want to stay in Utah and if you're management level. Companies that come into the state, he contends, tend to bring their senior people with them.
At this point in his unemployment, said Watts, he would be willing to relocate to another state, but there is another sticking point: he hasn't been able to sell his house. "It's still a flat real estate market here no matter what they say," said Watts.
Carolyn G. Lai has been looking for a job in Utah since July. An accountant, Lai, 42, was laid off from her job with a San Jose, Calif., firm last summer, after which she returned to Salt Lake City, where she has family, to make a new start.
"I've been fortunate in getting interviews, but I'm still unemployed," she said. "There are a lot of what they say are accounting jobs, but they are really just clerical positions."
That's a big problem in Utah, agrees Watts. "There are jobs if you want to start over . . . but it's hard when you are used to a good salary. There is ego involved and it's hard to come down after you've clawed your way to the top."
The competition for good jobs is fierce. Watts says he knows of one help-wanted ad that generated 1,500 applicants. Lai said she applied for a job with Murray City in which she was number 46 in a group of 90.
Both Watts and Lai are members of "40-Plus of Utah," an ever-changing group of unemployed people over age 40 who use Utah Job Service facilities (but has no official connection to Job Service) for meetings, networking, classes on interview-ing/-resume preparation, and just plain moral support.
There are no ceremonies for members who "graduate," they just don't show up for meetings anymore.
OK, there are people having a tough time. Do those individual tales of woe add up to a recession in Utah? Not yet, says Kenneth Jensen, labor market economist for the Utah Department of Employment Security. Even with the spurt in layoffs during the past few weeks, the state is still maintaining a job-growth rate that others would love to have.
The fact that not all of the companies terminating people are dumping them immediately into the market helps, said Jensen. For example, Rockwell's closing of its Collins plant at the Salt Lake International Center will be phased over a period from March to September.
"These increases (in layoffs) are going to slow our job growth, but the latest growth figures of 4.2 percent in January, 1990 over January, 1989, is still very good considering the rest of the country was virtually nil (about 2/10 of 1 percent)," said Jensen.
Particularly gratifying is Utah's increase in manufacturing employment which Jensen said continues to grow at around 4 percent, probably the fastest rate in the nation. Why the fast growth? It's not that Utah has the largest volume of manufacturing jobs, certainly, but as a percentage of the state's total employment it's doing just fine.
Only 17 of the 50 states enjoyed growth in manufacturing jobs from October 1989 to October 1990, and Utah's 3,500 new manufacturing jobs created during that period was second only to Ohio.
"Except for the few heavily industrialized states, Utah stands up pretty well. With 108,000 manufacturing jobs, there are a lot of states with far fewer than that," said Jensen.
And they are diversified over a greater number of companies. The days when massive layoffs at Kennecott or Geneva would cripple the local economy, he said, are pretty much over.