Consumer Pessimism Reaches Record Low for 70-Year Poll

Number of the Day: The most relevant or interesting figure in personal finance

70

That’s at least how many years it’s been since consumers felt this pessimistic about the economy and their finances, one popular survey showed, revealing the degree of damage rampant inflation is doing.

Amid unrelenting increases in prices, especially for gasoline, the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment—which dates back to 1952—fell 14% this month to its lowest level ever, the university said Friday. The index, based on a monthly survey of at least 500 U.S. households, never got this bad even when COVID-19 hit in 2020, or during the Great Recession, or even during the inflation-driven downturn of the early-1980s—the last time the inflation rate was higher than it is now (8.6%).

“This weakness in consumer sentiment drives home how problematic surging inflation is for consumers,” Conrad DeQuadros, a senior economic advisor at Brean Capital, said in a commentary.

Discouraged consumers are especially worrisome because they are a bellwether for the overall health of the U.S. economy. The worse consumers feel, the more likely they are to curb their spending, and that spending is the economy’s main engine of growth. The Michigan survey is a warning sign that more people could hit a breaking point and tighten their pursestrings, some economists said. 

That said, The Conference Board’s measure of consumer confidence isn’t even at its lowest since the pandemic began, let alone the lowest in 70 years, according to the latest reading, which was for May. And so far there hasn’t been a pullback in retail sales, some economists pointed out. 

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Diccon at dhyatt@thebalance.com.

Want to read more content like this? Sign up for The Balance’s newsletter for daily insights, analysis, and financial tips, all delivered straight to your inbox every morning!

Article Sources

  1. University of Michigan. “Consumer Sentiment Index.”