At -50, CCI in Familiar Territory

Ninety-three percent rate the economy negatively.

April 7, 2009 — -- Consumer confidence has slipped to its lowest in two months after another dreadful jobs report.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -50 on its scale of +100 to -100, down 3 points from its pitiful 2009 high of -47 three weeks ago and just 4 points from the 23-year low it reached Jan. 25. This week's measure ends a seven-week stretch in which the CCI inched above the grim -50 level.

Click here for a PDF with charts and data table.

Confidence is struggling under the worst job market in a generation; the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report puts unemployment at 8.5 percent, its highest since 1983. In 16 months the recession has cost 5.1 million jobs, with 13.2 million now out of work.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll last week found less gloomy views of the future, a measure less rooted in the reality of the moment and more sensitive to other factors, such as political sentiment. Current sentiment, by contrast, is nearly as bad as it's ever been in this poll's weekly readings.

INDEX – The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of the national economy, their personal finances and the buying climate. Just 7 percent rate the economy positively, in single digits for a record 22 weeks and 32 points below the long-term average.

Twenty-three percent say it's a good time to buy things, its worst in two months, 14 points below average and just 5 points from the low reached in October and August. A quarter or fewer have rated the buying climate positively for 12 weeks straight.

In the third measure, only 45 percent rate their personal finances positively – less than a majority for the 37th week straight, the longest such stretch since 1993.

TREND – At -50, the CCI matches its average for the year so far. It's the fifth time in 2009 the index has been -50 or worse, compared with 10 times in all of 2008 and only once before that in weekly polling since December 1985.

The CCI's been stuck between -47 and -54 for 26 weeks, an unprecedented slump. It's been below -40 for 50 weeks straight, another record. And it hasn't seen positive territory since March 2007.

Overall, the CCI is 39 points below its long-term average, -11, and miles from its best annual average, +29 in 2000, and all-time best, +38 in January 2000.

GROUPS – The index is negative across the board for the sixth consecutive week, but – as usual – higher among better-off groups.

It's -20 among those with the highest incomes (their worst since mid-January) but -74 among those with the lowest, -39 among those who've attended college (their best since early November) vs. -74 among high school dropouts (their worst since mid-January), -44 among men while -54 among women, -44 among homeowners compared with -64 among renters and -46 among whites vs. -68 among blacks.

Partisan differences remain: The index is -37 among Republicans (their worst since late January) vs. -59 among Democrats and -49 among independents. The 22-point partisan gap this week is the narrowest it's been since late December, and smaller than its average of 41 points in election-year 2008.

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, the same as last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8.

PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-five percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 46 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 41 percent Jan. 25.

BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-three percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 24 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 April 5, 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.

Click here for a PDF with charts and data table.