Consumer confidence inched ahead this week to its best level since late April, with the ABC Consumer Comfort Index now 10 points better than the all-time low it hit May 25. But consumer views remain in a deep rut nonetheless.
The CCI stands at -41 on its scale of +100 to -100, up from its record low of -51. But it's been at or below -40 for 12 weeks, a stretch surpassed only in 1991-1992. And it's a whopping 31 points below its long-term average in 22 years of weekly polls.
Among other economic woes, gasoline prices are swelling to new records, up two cents this week to $4.11 a gallon. American employers have cut jobs for the sixth month, reducing staff by 62,000 in June. And housing prices continue to slump.
INDEX – The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of their current finances, the national economy and the buying climate. Only 15 percent rate the national economy positively, the same as last week, down 16 points in 2008 and 25 points below the long-term average. The all-time low was 7 percent in early 1992 and late '91.
Just 23 percent say it's a good time to buy things, 4 points off the record low set in May and 15 points below the long-term average. Fewer than a quarter of Americans have rated the buying climate positively for 13 weeks straight, the longest period since a 14-week run in late 1991.
As usual, more, 51 percent, rate their own finances positively, the first time more than half have felt optimistic about their finances since late April. It's 9 points above the all-time low in March 1993, and 6 points below the long-term average.
TREND – While the index has advanced from its record low in late May it's only back to April's level and still on pace for its worst year since 1993. It's dropped from –20 at the start of this year and -9 a year ago. At -41, the index is far closer to its record low than to its average, -10, much less its all-time high, +38 in January 2000.
GROUPS – The CCI is negative across the board, but as usual, is higher in better-off groups. It's -3 among the highest income Americans vs. -68 among those with the lowest incomes, -32 among people who've been to college while -70 among high-school dropouts and -38 among whites while -60 among blacks. The index is much closer than usual between the sexes, -41 among men and -39 among women.
Sharp partisan differences remain: The index is -17 among Republicans, -39 among independents and -54 among Democrats.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:
NATIONAL ECONOMY – Fifteen percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good, same as last week. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was 7 percent in late 1991 and early 1992.
PERSONAL FINANCES – Fifty-one percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 49 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.
BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-three percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 22 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000; the worst was 19 percent, which happened twice in May.
METHODOLOGY – Interviews for the ABC News Consumer Comfort Index are reported in a four-week rolling average. This week's results are based on telephone interviews among a random national sample of 1,000 adults in the four weeks ending July 6, 2008. The results have a 3-point error margin. Field work by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.
The index is derived by subtracting the negative response to each index question from the positive response to that question. The three resulting numbers are added and divided by three. The index can range from +100 (everyone positive on all three measures) to -100 (all negative on all three measures). The survey began in December 1985.