Feb. 9, 2010 -- Like Washington D.C., consumer confidence is impressively snowed in.
More than nine in 10 Americans say the economy's in bad shape, more than three-quarters call it a bad time to spend money and more than half say their own finances are in the freezer. The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index, based on these, stands at an icy -48 on its scale of +100 to -100.
The gale's been blowing a long while. While the CCI inched up to -41 at the start of the year, its best in over a year, that's awful by historical standards. And it's worsened since, buried at around its current level for five weeks straight. The index is 6 points from its all-time low just over a year ago, and a world away from its long-term average, -13, in 24 years of weekly polls.
Unemployment, which is closely linked to consumer sentiment, did ease a bit in January. But 9.7 percent is hardly a number to rally around.
INDEX – Views of the economy overall are the worst of the index's three measures; only 8 percent rate it positively, 30 points below the long-term average and in single digits for 11 weeks straight. Just 23 percent call it a good time to spend money, 14 points worse than average. And 47 percent rate their personal finances positively, 10 points below average and less than a majority for 78 of the last 81 weeks.
TREND – The last significant movement for the CCI was in early January, when it fell an unusually large 6 points in one week. Since then it's been frozen in a 2-point range.
The index has been below -40 for a record 94 consecutive weeks, close to the -50 mark, last reached Oct. 25. It's averaged -47 this year, compared with -48 last year, its worst year on record. Its best year was +29 in 2000, its best week, +38 in January that year.
GROUPS – The index as usual is higher among better-off Americans, but has been negative across the board for 50 weeks straight, the longest such run in available data since 1990.
It's -4 among those with the highest incomes but -67 among those with the lowest, -37 among people who've attended college vs. -64 among those who never finished high school, -45 among homeowners but -58 among renters and -41 among men vs. -53 among women.
The usual racial gap essentially has disappeared, with the index at -48 among whites and -49 among blacks; long-term, by contrast, blacks have been less positive by an average 28 points. Relatedly, the Republican-Democratic gap is narrower than usual, with Republicans 9 points more positive, compared with 18 points last year, 41 points in 2008 and 32 points long-term.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:
NATIONAL ECONOMY – Eight percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 9 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8, 2009.
PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-seven percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 45 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 39 percent June 28 and 21, 2009.
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 18 percent, last reached Oct. 19, 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 Feb. 8, 2010. 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.