Economy

U.S. Consumers Pulling Back on Spending in August

by Dennis Jacobe, Chief Economist

Consumer spending of $61 per day is down from the prior week's average of $66

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' self-reported spending in stores, restaurants, gas stations, and online averaged $61 per day during the week ending Aug. 29. So far, August and back-to-school 2010 spending trends appear no better than those of August 2009.

Self-Reported U.S. Consumer Spending, May-August, 2009 vs. 2010

Self-Reported Spending Suggests "New Normal" Continues

Gallup's consumer spending measure averaged $68 per day in July and $67 in June -- up $6 on average from prior-year comparables, and at the upper end of the 2009 "new normal" monthly spending range of $59 to $67. The July results seem consistent with Monday's report of a 0.4% increase in personal spending in July 2010.

U.S. Consumer Spending, January to August, 2008 vs. 2009 vs. 2010

At this point, consumer spending in August is running below that of June and July, falling back to roughly the $65-per-day average of August 2009. This is consistent with perceptions of a continued weakening of the U.S. economy and tepid back-to-school sales.

It is also consistent with recent downward trend in consumer confidence as reflected by Gallup's Economic Confidence Index. Gallup's index predicted the slight uptick in last week's Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, and suggests a similar upward nudge in Tuesday's consumer confidence index report from the Conference Board. However, Gallup's index already shows confidence continuing to decline late in August -- falling below its average July levels.

A disappointing back-to-school sales season, declining consumer confidence, and a weak job market suggest that the perceived weakening of the U.S. economy is the reality on Main Street. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's "I've got your back" speech on Friday may have made Wall Street feel better for a day or so. However, it will likely take concrete, measurable action -- not just the Fed's announcement of its good intentions to help if necessary -- to build Americans' consumer confidence, stimulate consumer spending, and help small businesses increase their revenues and cash flow.

Gallup.com reports results from these indexes in daily, weekly, and monthly averages and in Gallup.com stories. Complete trend data are always available to view and export in the following charts:

Daily: Employment, Economic Confidence and Job Creation, Consumer Spending
Weekly: Employment, Economic Confidence, Job Creation, Consumer Spending

Read more about Gallup's economic measures.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking with a random sample of 1,000 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the weekly sample of national adults averaging 3,500 interviews, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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