Confidence Hits Another New Low as Recession's Officially Recognized

Consumer confidence has reached a new low in weekly polling since late 1985, coinciding with official word the U.S. economy has been in recession the past year.

The announcement is nothing new to consumers: The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index has fallen from -17 in mid-December 2007 to -54 today. En route it's matched or surpassed its previous low, set in 1992, eight times this year.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

Indeed the CCI, figured on a scale of +100 to -100, has been at or below -50 for an unprecedented four weeks straight. And its average in the current recession to date, -40, is worse than its average in either of the past two recessions, +3 in March to November 2001 and -33 during the deeper recession from July 1990 to March 1991.

INDEX – The index is based on Americans' ratings of the economy, their personal finances and the buying climate. Ninety-three percent now say the national economy's in bad shape and 58 percent rate their own finances negatively, each matching its worst on record. Eighty percent call it a bad time to buy things, 2 points from its record.

Ratings of the buying climate hardly augur well for the holiday season. Nor did a separate ABC News poll two weeks ago in which a record-tying 51 percent planned to spend less this year, and 68 percent said they'd look for sales. The only bright spot: The retreat in gasoline prices, down for 11 weeks to $1.81, might free up some cash.

Among the index measures, positive ratings of personal finances were this low just once before, in March 1993; they're down 16 points on the year and 15 points off the long-term average. Fewer than a majority have rated their finances positively for 19 weeks straight, the longest such stretch since 1992-1993.

Positive ratings of the economy now match their low of two weeks ago and, previously, late 1991 and early 1992. They're down 24 points on the year, 32 points off the long-term average and have been in single digits for a month, the longest stretch since late 1992.

Positive ratings of the buying climate, at 20 percent, are 2 points shy of the record low set this past October and August, down 11 points on the year and 18 points off their average. Twenty-five percent or fewer have rated the buying climate positively for 35 straight weeks, the longest run on record.

TREND – Before this year the CCI's low was -50 in February 1992; in 2008, as noted, it's matched or exceeded that level eight times. The current -54 marks the third new low this year in nearly 1,200 consecutive weeks of polling.

The index has averaged -42 for the year, 31 points from last year's -11 average, the sharpest year-over-year drop on record. 2008's average is surpassed only by -44 in 1992. That compares with its long-term average of -11 and a high of +38 in January 2000.

GROUPS – The CCI has been negative across demographic groups for 23 straight weeks, but with differences, mostly influenced by income levels. It's -27 among people with the highest incomes (matching their low point from Nov. 16) compared with -80 among those with the lowest incomes; -50 among those who've been to college (their lowest since March 1991) vs. -67 among high-school dropouts; -72 among blacks vs. -48 among whites; and -56 among women vs. -49 among men (matching their low from Aug. 17). The index is -74 among renters vs. -46 among homeowners (matching a record low).

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