New Low for Personal Finances; Overall Confidence Comes Close

cci/ABC News

Americans' ratings of their personal finances have tumbled in the last six weeks to their lowest in 23 years of weekly polls, pushing overall consumer confidence to within a point of its worst ever.

Just 39 percent of Americans in this week's ABC News Consumer Comfort Index rate their own finances positively, down 13 points in six weeks – the biggest such drop on record – as spiking gas prices have added insult to recessionary injury.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

That, moreover, is the best of the index's three measures. Just 24 percent rate the buying climate positively, steady within a 3-point range since mid-April; and a mere 7 percent rate the economy positively, in a 1-point range for six weeks.

The overall ABC CCI, based on these gauges, stands at -53 on its scale of +100 to -100, down 4 points this week, down 11 points from its recent high of -42 on May 10 and just a point from its all-time low, -54, Jan. 25. These compare to a long-term average of -12.

The trend matches other data: A separate ABC News/Washington Post poll this week found diminished expectations that the federal stimulus has helped or will help the economy, down 7 points from April to a slim majority of 52 percent today. And views that the country's heading in the right direction leveled off after steady gains this year.

Gas prices are up for the eighth week to $2.69; unemployment its highest since 1983.

TREND – At -53, the CCI is 4 points below its 2009 average and 9 points below its worst annual average, -44 in 1992. It's been below -40 for a record 61 weeks, and hasn't seen positive territory for over two years. Its record high was +38 in January 2000.

Among the individual gauges, positive ratings of the buying climate are 13 points below their long-term average; positive ratings of personal finances, 18 points below average; and positive ratings of the national economy a whopping 31 points below average, as well as in single digits for 35 of the last 37 weeks - another record.

GROUPS – The index is higher as usual among better-off Americans, but negative across the board for the 17th straight week.

It's -19 among those with the highest incomes (matching the worst since April) but -76 among those with the lowest, -44 among those who've attended college (the worst since March) vs. -71 among high school dropouts (also the worst since April), -47 among men (2 points from the low) while -58 among women (1 point from the low), -44 among homeowners compared with -69 among renters (the worst since December) and -52 among whites (a new low) vs. -59 among blacks (a 7-point racial gap; usually, 28 points).

There are partisan differences, with the index at -40 among Republicans (2 points from the low) vs. -58 among Democrats (the worst since April) and -52 among independents. With Republicans near their low, the 18-point partisan gap is smaller than usual; it was 41 points last year and the long-term difference in data since 1990 is 32 points.

Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:

NATIONAL ECONOMY – Seven percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 8 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8.

PERSONAL FINANCES – Thirty-nine percent say their own finances are excellent or good – the worst on record; it was 43 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000.

BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-four percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 25 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 18 percent Oct. 19, Aug. 10 and Aug. 24, 2008.

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 June 21, 2009. 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.