NEW YORK - Americans are feeling worse about the economy than they have in a long time - a fact that could have wide-reaching implications everywhere from Wal-Mart to the White House.
Despite improving U.S. job and housing markets, consumer confidence fell to the lowest level it's been since November 2011, according to The Conference Board, a private research group. The results are the latest swing in the index, which has been on a rollercoaster ride this year.
The index declined in January, rose in February and then posted four months of declines before registering an increase in July. August's reading indicates that the gains in the job and housing markets aren't big enough to put to rest Americans' economic fears. That not only threatens to put a damper on retail sales for the back-to-school and winter holiday seasons - the two biggest shopping periods of the year - but it also could have an impact on how Americans vote in November's presidential election.
In this July 10, photo, shoppers look for merchandise in Boston. A private research group says that consumer confidence unexpectedly fell in August to the lowest level since November 2011, as Americans' outlook about jobs flared up. The New York-based Conference Board said Tuesday, that its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 60.6, down from a revised 65.4 in July. Economists had expected a reading of 66. The index now stands at the lowest point since November 2011 when the reading was at 55.2.
Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo Securities senior economist, says he has looked at October confidence figures during the past elections of sitting presidents since 1972. No president has been re-elected when confidence was below a reading of 90, which indicates a healthy economy. The index hasn't reached that level since December 2007.
The New York-based Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index in August fell to 60.6, down from a revised 65.4 in July and the 66 analysts were expecting. The index now stands at the lowest it's been since November 2011 when the reading was at 55.2.
"This report is a little disturbing going into the fall," Vitner said. "Consumers are less optimistic about the future."
Elizabeth Dann, a May 2012 graduate of Georgetown Law School, certainly is. She says her confidence has soured more in the past few months as she continues to struggle to find a permanent job in the law field. Dann, 30, who is eight months pregnant and married to someone who is in finance, says she has been cautious about spending.
"I really saw law school as a way to ride out the recession," said the New Rochelle, N.Y. resident. "I was optimistic."
But the job market hasn't picked up the way she expected, and Dann, who voted for Obama in the 2008 election, is now unsure who she will cast a vote for in November. "We don't have someone on our side," she said.
The August consumer confidence reading shows that despite signs that the economy is recovering, many Americans are like Dann in that they aren't being encouraged by the snail's pace by which it's improving.