Consumer sentiment drops as gap widens between wealthy and lower-income households
YONKERS, N.Y., April 11, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Consumer Reports Index, a gauge of overall consumer financial health, showed a drop in consumer sentiment levels, an increase in financial troubles and a jump in stress levels for consumers, despite reports the economy is showing signs of improvement.
The Consumer Reports Index April report showed that consumer sentiment has declined to 44.6 from 46.1 last month, and the gap in confidence has widened between the 50 percent of American households that earn less than $50,000 and wealthier Americans earning $100,000 or more.
The Consumer Reports Index's trouble tracker, which gauges the amount and frequency of financial difficulties consumers face, increased slightly this month to 54.5 from 52.2 in March, and is at its highest level since August 2011.
The impact varies greatly by household income. Consumer Reports' trouble tracker measure for those living in households earning less than $50,000 stands at 72.0, more than twice the level of those in households earning $100,000 or more (29.1). Among-lower income households in the past 30 days: 23.3% reported they were unable to afford medical bills or medications, 13.5% missed payment on a major bill – not mortgage, and 9.3% reported lost or reduced healthcare coverage.
The discomfort many Americans are reporting is reflected in the Consumer Reports Index's stress measure, which was up sharply in April to 64.3 from 57.5 last month. At current levels, stress is at the highest it's been since September 2009.
"Our results show how consumers feel about their current situation and immediate future. A majority have yet to feel or see any improvement in their own financial situation. Unless the employment market improves and many of these factors change, it could be some time before we see a true return to optimism," said Ed Farrell, director of market research at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
The Consumer Reports Index's employment measure slipped slightly for April (49.3) from last month (49.9), and is well below its recent high in January of 50.6. The Consumer Reports Index tracks the number of Americans reporting that they started a new job in relation to the percentage who reported losing a job. In the past 30 days, 7.1% of Americans reported losing a job versus 5.8% starting a new job.
Consumer spending on retail has yet to regain its footing since the winter holiday season. The Consumer Reports Index's past 30-day retail measure, reflecting March activity, fell slightly to 11.3 from 11.5 last month. Looking in detail at the categories comprising the measure (major appliances, small appliances, major home electronics, personal electronics, major yard/garden equipment) losses were driven by a decline in major home electronics (12.8%, down from 15.5% a month earlier).
Planned purchasing over the next 30 days, reflecting intended activity in April, was 8.0, down from 8.7 the prior month, dimming hopes for an upturn in the near future.
Among major retail categories, the Consumer Reports Index tracks but does not include in its retail calculations (homes and cars), past 30-day purchases, reflecting March activity, were up for used cars (6.9%) versus the previous month (4.6%), and flat for new cars (3.4%) and homes (1.8%).
The Consumer Reports Index report, available at www.ConsumerReports.org, comprises five key indices: the Sentiment Index, the Trouble Tracker Index, the Stress Index, the Retail Index and the Employment Index.
The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. A total of 1,017 interviews were completed (767 telephone and 250 cell phone) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between March 29 and April 1. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. The complete index report, methodology and tabular information are available. Contact: C. Matt Fields 914-378-2454 or [email protected] .
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SOURCE Consumer Reports