Consumer Reports: Robust consumer spending may be on the horizon, just not there yet

YONKERS, N.Y. — The Consumer Reports Index, an overall measure of Americans’ personal financial health, shows Americans are reporting significantly fewer financial troubles, Consumer Reports National Research Center announced Tuesday. The Index’s trouble tracker measure fell sharply to 34 from 41.7 a month earlier — the lowest level since the organization first measured it in April 2009.

“The data offer a glimpse that consumers may be starting to see and feel the progress of the economic recovery,” stated Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center. "[However,] despite the improvements, consumers are still frigid about robust spending. We are watching closely waiting to see how long it will take them to thaw out from the mindset created by the conditions of the past five years.”     

The level of stress that consumers felt was up slightly to 55.2 from 53.8 last month. The most stressed Americans: women (55.8), those in households earning under $50,000 (57.1), aged 18-34 (56.6), and those in the North East (57.6).

The Consumer Reports trouble tracker has dropped more than 50% from its high-water mark in September 2009, when this measure reached 68.7. The greatest drop in financial difficulties over the past 30 days was among those in households earning less than $50,000, followed by the most affluent in homes earning $100,000 or more. Amidst this general drop in financial difficulties, middle-income Americans experienced a slight rise in financial troubles.

The Consumer Reports index’s employment measure showed that job gains outpaced job losses for the third straight month. The employment measure was little changed this month, rising slightly to 50.6 from 50.3 a month earlier. This uptick was attributable to an increase in the proportion of Americans starting a new job in the past 30 days, and job gains outpaced job losses by a widening margin. The only group that shed more jobs than it gained was among those with a high school education or less.

The Consumer Reports Index’s past 30-day retail measure halted four straight months of decline, ticking upward to 9.2 from 8.7 a month earlier. Among the retail categories the Index tracks, the gain was driven primarily by a large seasonal rise in the major lawn and garden equipment category, and a small uptick in major appliances. The Index also shows that consumers are still not comfortable with robust spending. Planned spending for the next 30 days, reflecting potential June activity, is at 6.0, its lowest level since first measured in April 2009.

The Consumer Reports Index’s trouble tracker measure focuses on both the proportion of consumers that have faced difficulties as well as the number of negative events they have encountered. The negative events include the inability to pay medical bills or afford medication; missed mortgage payment; home foreclosure; interest-rate increase, penalty fees, reduced lines of credit or other changes in credit-card terms; job loss; reduced health-care coverage; and, the denial of personal loans.

The Consumer Reports Index is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. A total of 1,018 interviews were completed (668 telephone and 350 cell phone) among adults. Interviewing took place between May 30 and June 2.


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