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Orange County confidence booms, Chapman survey shows

The typical Orange County resident who helped create a huge boost in local optimism at the start of 2021 was more likely a Hispanic woman with a full-time job, decent pay and a Democrat.

That’s what my trusty spreadsheet tells me about first-quarter results of Chapman University’s Orange County Consumer Sentiment Index. The study, derived from a survey of 500 residents, showed confidence soared a record-breaking 42% from the end of pandemic-scarred 2020. That’s inline with a statewide index by the Conference Board showing consumer confidence in March, which also was at a post-pandemic high.

In Orange County, the first quarter’s reading was also 30% above last year’s average score, leaving it only 5% below what I’ll call the benchmark for the good ol’ pre-pandemic days — 2019’s average index result.

“Why?” is simple: Controlling the pandemic — through various “stay at home” measure as well as vaccinations — has allowed the economy to reopen somewhat and create more jobs.

“It looks like we have turned the corner,” says Chapman professor Marc Weidenmier. “It appears that the medical community and vaccinations are getting the upper hand on the coronavirus. The economy is opening up and people are going back to work. The positive trend should continue for the foreseeable future unless we are hit by another wave of the virus.”

The study shows Orange County has a decidedly upbeat outlook on things to come, economically speaking. Statewide, the Conference Board survey in March found record-high hopes for the future.

Consider Chapman’s seven questions that build the overall index. Polling showed an expectation the national economy would rebound, boosting the financial picture for most Orange County families …

U.S. business conditions, next year? The first-quarter’s survey shows a 56% jump in those polled seeing who see improvement ahead. It’s also 56% higher vs. 2020 and 30% higher vs. 2019.

Business conditions on household, next year? Up 30% and 23% higher vs. 2020 and 11% higher vs. 2019.

Business conditions on household, currently? Up 54% and 40% higher vs. 2020 but 18% lower vs. 2019.

Business conditions vs. a year ago? Up 322% and 114% higher vs. 2020 but 39% lower vs. 2019.

Personal finances, next year? Up 18% and 14% higher than 2020’s average but 7% lower than 2019.

Chances finding a job? Up 37% and 27% higher vs. 2020 but 4% lower vs. 2019.

Plans to buy a car? Up 19% and a 6% higher vs. 2020 but 4% lower vs. 2019.

When it came to the employment status of those polled, the index showed confidence among Orange County part-timers was lagging. The “fun” hospitality industries loaded with part-timers — from restaurants to entertainment to hotels — have yet to rebound from the pandemic era’s strict business restrictions …

Part-Time: Optimism rose 36% in the first quarter; 18% higher vs. 2020 but 24% lower vs. 2019.

Full-Time: Up 43% and 33% higher vs. 2020 but 2% lower vs. 2019.

Self Employed: Up 33% 20% and higher vs. 2020 but 5% lower vs. 2019.

When pondering income levels, the index suggest the more you make the better you feel about the economic recovery. Lower-paid jobs are still suffering …

Less than $50,000: Optimism averaged a 43% jump in a quarter, 24% higher vs. 2020 but 13% lower vs. 2019.

More than $50,000: Up an average 41% and 32% higher vs. 2020 but 4% lower vs. 2019.

By gender, females are more optimistic …

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Males: Up 33% in the first quarter; 26% higher vs. 2020 but 9% lower vs. 2019.

Females: Up 48% and 33% higher vs. 2020 but 2% lower vs. 2019.

Looking at those polled by ethnicity, Hispanics appear to be the most optimistic. That’s somewhat surprising considering how hard hit this community was hit by coronavirus, medically and economically …

Hispanic: Up 59% in the first quarter; 36% higher vs. 2020 but 2% lower vs. 2019.

Asian: Up 40% and 35% higher vs. 2020 but 4% lower vs. 2019.

White: Up 32% and 24% higher vs. 2020 but 7% lower vs. 2019.

Black: Up 44% and 18% higher vs. 2020 but 5% lower vs. 2019.

And, of course, there’s a political divide — but optimism grows …

Republican: Optimism rose 27% in the first quarter but it’s 2% lower vs. 2020 and 34% lower vs. 2019.

Democrat: Up 51% in a quarter, 56% higher vs. 2020 and 24% higher vs. 2019.

“The fact that both Republicans and Democrats can agree that consumer sentiment is recovering quickly is remarkable given the high level of partisan tensions in the United States. Indeed, this is a great signal that O.C. is on the road to recovery,” said the report.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at

Source: Orange County Register

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