The Recession Hits the Plains

On Monday, Creighton University's Economic Forecasting Group released the latest installment of the Mid-America Economic Survey. The survey of supply managers in nine plains states has been conducted monthly since 1994 to "produce leading economic indicators of the Mid-America economy." The survey provides a snapshot of economic activity in the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

For November, the economic picture was less than positive. The survey's primary index hit a second straight all-time low in November, recording a score of 37.8. Any score below 50 "indicates a contracting economy over the next six to eight months." Only one state surveyed, North Dakota, showed a growing economy, with an index reading of 55.7, down from both September and October.

Employment prospects in the area were also negative, with the region showing "job losses for the tenth time in the past 11 months." This led to a "very weak" November employment index figure of 39.0, down from 49.7 in October, another record low. Creighton economics professor Ernie Goss, a member of the forecast group, expects "regional job losses to mount in the months ahead with rapidly rising unemployment rates for most states." According to Goss, the area is "now in a recession and I expect it to rival the recession of 1981-82 in terms of joblessness and job losses."

Echoing such findings today, the Federal Reserve released the latest edition of the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions, more commonly referred to as the Beige Book. According to the report, "overall economic activity weakened across all Federal Reserve Districts," with declines in retail sales, manufacturing activity, and housing prices being reported in nearly all districts. On the plains, the Minneapolis and Kansas City Fed districts both reported weaker overall economic activity.

Hopes for a quick rebound are subdued. According to the Kansas City Fed, their "business contacts expressed little optimism about economic activity going forward." The Mid-America survey reports that economic optimism "captured by the confidence index, slipped to another record low of 22.4" in November. While pockets of strength such as North Dakota remain, communities across the plains now face the prospect of a significant economic downturn.