Utah's economy may be sizzling, but almost four of every 10 residents say the recent boom has left them out in the cold.
In a Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, 37 percent of respondents said they had seen little or no benefit from Utah's recent economic good times. Another 46 percent said they had seen some benefit, and 15 percent said they benefited "a great deal."Wendy Bridges counts herself in the latter categories, and she said some people who claim to be missing out on the state's success may not be looking hard enough at what it has given them.
"My employment has been steady, and I've been getting good raises," said Bridges, 48, an employee of the Doubletree Hotel. "It's been prosperous for me, personally. . . . I think, with a lot of people, it's not something that hits us right away. It just takes time."
James Wood, senior research analyst with the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said growth has helped many Utahns, but it comes with a cost.
"We've had a lot of growth. That's a fact," Wood said. "We're going to continue to have growth, maybe at a different rate. The question is, how are the costs and benefits of growth distributed?"
For example, he said, people who purchased a home before the economic surge have seen their property values soar. But someone who wants to buy a first home now may struggle, despite low interest rates.
"We are a low-wage state in a low-wage region," Wood said. "And we have become more of a service, retail trade economy, which means that our average pay per job is only about 85 percent of the national average, but we've got housing prices that are pretty high."
On the other hand, he said, many people who own businesses have come out ahead during the boom, and the tight job market has been good news for those seeking better jobs.
Robin Thompson, owner of a home-based business called Thomp-son Trainings, said she is not sure how much of her recent success is due to the strong economy and how much is due to her own efforts.
Thompson, 39, started her business five years ago after spending time teaching and working in interior design.
"I am better off, definitely, and who knows what the reason is," she said. "I'm sure the economy adds to it. It's not just that I've been in business long enough. If it was a poor economy, I don't think my local training business would be doing as well as it is, because companies wouldn't be able to afford to have me come in and speak and train."
Ken Phipps, 33, an administrative assistant with CARE of Utah, said the state's boom has helped him keep a steady income.
"I did temporary jobs for about two years, and I could walk out of one and get another one in two hours," he said.
He said the strong demand for labor was a factor in his decision to stop temp work and take the job with CARE. But he said he was not surprised that many Utahns feel they have not seen the benefits of a strong economy.
"One-third of the people are in some kind of transition, probably, or they aren't out trying for a new job," Phipps said. "It's a good time . . . to make a change."
Jessie X. Fan, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences at the U., agreed that the poll numbers sound about right. But she said psychological factors may play a part in people's feelings about their participation in the economy.
A person who is the richest in a group of poor friends may feel good about the overall economic situation, Fan said. But if one person receives a $1,000 raise, and her neighbor nabs a $2,000 pay hike, the first person may feel like she is missing out on the benefits of a good economy.
"You compare yourself with others, and if they're doing even better than you are, you don't feel good," she said.
Jeff Thredgold, president of Thredgold Economic Associates and an economic consultant to Zions Bank, said he thinks the proportion of people who feel they have seen a benefit from the good economy should be higher than 61 percent.
"In most polls, you do get kind of a negative element, or kind of a sourpuss attitude that people aren't willing to acknowledge that perhaps a tight labor market and a lot of job growth have benefited them," Thredgold said. "They might think it's based solely on their abilities."
He said some of the negative responses also may come from people at lower wage levels. Most of them are making more money now than they did a few years ago, he said, but it does not necessarily stretch further.
In fact, of poll respondents who said they work for an employer, 68 percent said they received a salary increase during the last 12 months, while 31 percent said they did not.
Kelly K. Matthews, chief economist for First Security Bank, said the rate of inflation has come down as pay has increased, so real wages have improved. And with the unemployment rate hovering around 3 percent, people have had plenty of chances to switch to better jobs.
"I can't imagine someone who hasn't felt that they could get a better job, or that they felt more secure in their job, or that they got a bigger wage increase than a couple years ago," Matthews said. "I think (the economic boom) has touched most everybody in one way or another. . . .
"If a consumer can't be happy over the way things have been the last year, I personally can't describe how it can get any better."
Deseret News poll
Utah's economy has been booming. How much do you feel you have benefitted from the economic good times?
Little or none 37%
A great deal 15%
Don't know 3%
Do you currently work for an employer?
Don't know (refuse) 1%
Did you receive a salary increase during the past 12 months?*
Don't know (refuse) 1%
Poll of 1,219 registered voters statewide was conducted June 13-19 with a margin of error +-2.7 by Dan Jones & Associates, an independent polling firm whose clients include other organizations and sometimes political parties and candidates.
Copyright 1998 Deseret News.