U.S. Consumer Spending Flat in February

U.S. Consumer Spending Flat in February

by Dennis Jacobe, Chief Economist

Spending stable across income groups

PRINCETON, NJ -- U.S. self-reported consumer spending was essentially flat in February, averaging $83 per day, compared with $80 in January. Gallup's consumer spending measure is running at a higher level in early 2013 than has been the case over the past several years, but remains well below the $106 of February 2008.

U.S. Self-Reported Spending, Trend in Monthly Averages of Daily Spending Since January 2008

These results are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews, conducted by landline and cellphone, with more than 12,000 Americans from Feb. 1-27.

The higher-than-usual spending in January and February coincides with Gallup's decision to include more cellphone-only respondents beginning Jan. 1. It is unclear whether that change could have affected the January and February spending estimates.

Spending Steady Across Income Groups

Upper-income Americans' spending averaged $141 in February, on par with $138 in January. Middle- and lower-income consumer spending was also essentially unchanged at $72 in February, versus $70 in January.

Upper-income spending in 2013 not only is higher than that of recent years, but is close to spending in February 2008 ($148). While middle- and lower-income spending is also higher than it has been during the past four years, spending among this group still trails that of February 2008 ($95).

U.S. Self-Reported Spending, Trend in Monthly Averages by Income Since January 2008

Weekly Spending by Income Suggests No Change in Trend

Middle- and lower-income weekly spending declined slightly during the second half of January, but has since recovered and remained essentially flat in February. Although weekly upper-income spending tends to be more volatile due to smaller sample sizes, the data suggest that upper-income spending also remained relatively steady throughout the month.


Americans' self-reported spending estimates may seem surprisingly strong -- even though flat in February -- given the elimination of the payroll tax holiday, record-high gas prices for this time of year, reports of relatively soft consumer purchases at a number of retailers, and talk of the potentially negative impact on the economy of federal budget cuts under the so-called sequester. On the other hand, Wall Street is surging, Gallup's Economic Confidence Index remains near its five-year high, and optimism seems to be spreading about the outlook for key economic sectors such as autos and housing. Right now, it seems consumers are seeing these as offsetting economic factors, allowing them to continue spending at their January pace.

In this regard, Gallup's consumer spending estimates provide a somewhat different economic "window" into the U.S. economy than most other consumer spending measures. Gallup's spending measure excludes large items such as autos and housing, but does include gas at the pump and Internet spending. As a result, the relative strength of Gallup's spending measure for February may also reflect a general shift in spending composition -- for example, an increase in consumer spending on the Internet and away from bricks and mortar -- not just a change in overall discretionary spending levels. And it may also reflect the reality of the increase in costs of gas and other consumer necessities such as food.

Regardless, Gallup's estimates suggest consumers are spending somewhat more in early 2013 than over the past four years, but not yet enough to catch up with early 2008 levels recorded in the early stages of the recession and before the financial crisis. Whether this positive spending can be maintained in the face of what seem like continuous political confrontations in the nation's capital remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that building on the current consumer spending levels will require improving job growth -- something still not in evidence in early 2013.

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, 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

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Daily tracking survey Feb. 1-27, 2013, with a random sample of 12,384 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphones 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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 www.gallup.com.

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