People bracing for rough time ahead, survey shows

December 14, 1990|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Evening Sun Staff

Patricia Storch believes an economic earthquake has hit the nation and has been felt everywhere except on Capitol Hill.

Elizabeth Bryan insists the downturn is only an economic stutter, and blames the media for scaring people toward a recession.

Walter Hayes Jr. hopes the economy will begin to rebound next year. But Bettye Frantz says we're possibly heading for the Great Depression II.

Though they differ on how sick the economy is and why, many Baltimore-area residents see no rapid recovery and are worried about their own financial security, an Evening Sun survey of 1,100 people has found.

Moreover, people must dig deeper into their pockets to maintain their usual standard of living. And they have postponed purchases of big-ticket items and will spend less for Christmas than last year.

The Evening Sun survey on the economy was conducted last week through SUNDIAL, the call-in information service of the Baltimore Sun. The results provide a cross-section of local opinion but lack the demographic balance of a scientifically designed poll.

Those answering the survey questions also were invited to comment on the economy, and many of the responses showed more than a trace of anger -- at government, big business and the troubled banking industry.

"People are having to make do with less, but big business seems to be doing fine," said Scott Lee, 29, of Overlea.

Ninety-seven percent of those who participated are residents of the city or one of the following counties: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard.

Of the 1,100 people surveyed, an overwhelming majority, 82 percent, believe the economy is heading into a recession.

Only 17 percent expect conditions to improve early in 1991; 57 percent believe things will get worse; and 24 percent expect conditions to remain about the same.

Patricia Storch, a Columbia resident, was one of several who said that public officials don't see the depth of the crisis. Unemployment statistics are misleading, she said, because many people are ashamed to be out of work and don't claim unemployment benefits.

"I do not think anyone in government has an idea of how big the unemployment problem is, especially among middle-aged people," Storch said. "Once they get out of the job track, there is just no way to get back in."

Those participating in the survey were split on whether a severe economic depression is a possibility; 51 percent said no and 48 percent said yes.

Walter Hayes Jr., 35, who lives in the city, said that any recession "won't have the effects of the Nineteen Thirties or anything like it. We'll probably have a slowdown until the middle of next year, and then things should turn around and go back up."

Some participants said that politicians and financiers are largely to blame for the sad state of the economy, and the situation could deteriorate to something like the 1930s.

"The greed, the selfishness and the crookedness of some of our elected officials, as well as our banking industry, is going to be the downfall for the second time in this country," said Bettye Frantz of Timonium, alluding to the stock-market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.

Some believe that news accounts have exaggerated the nation's economic problems.

"We're scaring people by talk of a recession," said Elizabeth Bryan, a Baltimore County resident. "People are getting more cautious when it really isn't necessary."

Rick Wilcome, 28, of Annapolis, agreed. "The press is getting people a little bit panicky about the whole thing," he said. "If people just lie low and save their money, I think they're going to make it through OK."

Wilcome believes the recession probably is "a temporary thing."

More than a third of those participating, 37 percent, are worried about being laid off at work because of the economy.

A surprising 30 percent said that someone in their household has suffered a loss of income due to layoffs or cost-cutting at work.

Several people said that, during hard times, companies are obsessed with self-preservation and turn their backs on workers.

"During good times, it seems as if big business requires and receives commitment from employees," said James Kolmer, 35, a Harford County resident. "It's only when times are tough that companies don't give a damn about those things and lay people off."

In the survey, 86 percent of the participants said their cost of living is higher than a year ago, and only 19 percent said they are able to put more money into savings this year than last.

A solid majority, 60 percent, said they had delayed a major purchase because of worries about the economy, and 76 percent said they generally were avoiding going deeper into debt.

"A lot of people feel the bite," said David Wiseman, 25, a resident of Baltimore County.

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