Economy

Americans' Spending Declines in August

by Dennis Jacobe, Chief Economist

Self-reported spending averaged $68 per day in August, down from $74 in July

PRINCETON, NJ -- Overall self-reported daily U.S. consumer spending in stores, restaurants, gas stations, and online averaged $68 per day in August, down from $74 in July. Spending has now returned to May and June levels, but remains above the $63 average from August 2010, one of the lowest estimates since 2010.

Spending 2010-August 2011.gif

Upper-Income Americans Pulling Back

Spending among Americans making $90,000 or more annually averaged $119 per day in August, down from $128 in July. This is the lowest spending level among upper-income consumers since April of this year, but is higher than the $109 average of August 2010.

Upper-income spending in August.gif

Lower- and Middle-Income Americans Spending Less

Americans who make less than $90,000 per year reported spending an average of $59 per day during August, down from $63 in July but up from the $54 of August 2010.

Middle and Lower Income spending in august.gif

Implications

The August decline in consumer spending -- although up from last year's weak comparables -- is consistent with the sharp drop in in economic confidence and workers' heightened worries about the unemployment situation last month. In particular, the pullback in upper-income spending seems to parallel the worsening of upper-income confidence relative to that of other Americans during the month of August.

It appears that third-quarter U.S. economic growth will be as anemic as that of the first two quarters of 2011. While the government's announcement that zero net new jobs were created in August made major headlines over the Labor Day holiday, Gallup's data suggest an even more dire jobs situation. Not only is unemployment likely higher than the government reports, but underemployment increased to 18.5% at the end of August. With so many Americans underemployed, it seems likely that consumer spending will continue to decline.

Still, consumer psychology is likely the key to increased spending, particularly on the part of upper-income Americans who have disposable income to spend if they want. Whether the president's address to Congress this week and/or the Republican response can change the current recessionary consumer psychology is yet to be determined. The same is true for the Fed's ability to do so by way of printing money as they did a year ago with "quantitative easing" -- something they hesitated to do at their August meeting but may reconsider in September.

Gallup Daily tracking will measure the success of the government's efforts -- or the lack thereof -- during the days and weeks ahead.

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.

View our economic release schedule.

Survey Methods

For Gallup Daily tracking, Gallup interviews approximately 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, each day. The consumer spending results are based on a random sample of approximately 500 current full- and part-time employees each day.

National results for August are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews with 15,001 national adults conducted Aug. 1-31, 2011. For this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Upper-income results are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews with 2,633 national adults conducted Aug. 1-31, 2011. For this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Middle- and lower-income results are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews with 9,939 national adults conducted Aug. 1-31, 2011. For this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 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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