Obama's Economic Moves Leave Confidence Flat so Far

Barack Obama's initial moves on the economy have left consumer confidence flat so far: it remains in full duck-and-cover mode, not far from its low in 23 years of weekly polls.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -49 on its scale of +100 to -100. That's 5 points better than its record low at the end of January, thanks to a gain among Democrats celebrating Obama's arrival. But it's still dismal; the long-term average is -11.

Click here for PDF of analysis with charts and data table.

Obama today said consumer confidence should improve as his stimulus package creates jobs. History urges caution: Confidence in the last deep recession, in 1990-91, recovered very slowly, with the ABC CCI regaining its pre-recession levels only in late 1994.

Other economic news hardly helps. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 667,000 first-time unemployment claims last week, the most in more than 26 years. Fourth-quarter GDP was revised from -3.8 percent to -6.2 percent, its worst quarterly reading in 26 years. And the Dow Jones dropped below 7,000 yesterday to its lowest close in 12 years. INDEX – The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of the economy, their personal finances and the buying climate. Only 5 percent rate the economy positively; it's been that low or lower for seven weeks and fewer than 10 percent for 17 weeks, both records.

Positive ratings of the economy are 34 points below their long-term average and 10 points off last year's average, itself the second lowest annual mark on record.

Just 24 percent rate the buying climate positively, 14 points from the long-term average and 6 points from the low in October and August. Fewer than a third of Americans have said it's a good time to buy things for 68 weeks, second only to a stretch from 1990-93.

At 48 percent, positive ratings of personal finances, typically the best of the three measures, are 7 points from their low in late January and 9 points off the long-term average in weekly polls since late 1985. Fewer than a majority have rated their own finances positively for 32 weeks straight, surpassed only by a 40-week run in 1992-93.

TREND – The CCI hasn't strayed beyond a range from -48 to -54 since Oct. 13, a record stretch of 21 weeks. It's been below -40 for 45 consecutive weeks, another record, and hasn't seen positive territory in nearly two years (+2 in mid-March 2007).

The index's average for the year so far is -51, 40 points below its long-term average and 9 points below its 2008 average – which was the second worst annual average on record, after 1992. Its record high, +38 in January 2000, is a distant dream.

GROUPS – The CCI is higher as usual among better-off groups, but negative across the board – with the highest income bracket slipping out of positive territory for the first time in three weeks, to -7, vs. -72 among those with the lowest incomes.

It's -46 among those who've attended college vs. -59 among high school dropouts (their best in 10 weeks), -45 among men while -51 among women, -45 among homeowners vs. -56 among renters (their best since early October and the smallest difference with owners since last March) and -48 among whites vs. -57 among blacks (matching last week's high since late December).

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