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Consumer Reports Index finds Half of Americans Languish while more Affluent Households Flourish

Consumer ReportsYonkers, NY – The road to economic recovery has been a vastly different trek for American households earning less than $50,000 per year than it has been for more affluent consumers, according to two years’ worth of data from the Consumer Reports Index.

For more affluent households (earning $100K+), economic recovery began as far back as February 2010—when the Consumer Reports Sentiment Index score for this group moved into positive territory (above 50). Since then, sentiment among this affluent group (18% of Americans) has continued to climb to a two-year high (54.8).

During the same period, sentiment levels of lower-income households (earning <$50K) bottomed out in October of 2009. Since then, sentiment has risen slightly among this group that represents 50 percent of the U.S. population, but remains firmly entrenched in negative territory.  

The Consumer Reports Index, produced monthly by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a nationally representative measure of the economy from the consumer’s perspective. Each month the Consumer Reports Index surveys Americans about how they feel, the economic problems they encounter and their spending habits through five key measures: the Sentiment Index, the Stress Index, the Retail Index, the Employment Index and the Trouble Tracker Index.     

“We are seeing a tale of two very different recoveries,” said Ed Farrell, a director of Survey Research at the Consumer Reports National Research Center. “While things have been improving for the wealthiest Americans for some time, lower-income families still have very little to be positive about.”

The disparity in sentiment levels may be due to the fact that lower-income households have faced more pronounced and frequent financial troubles throughout the last two years. The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index, which is a monthly measure of eight financial troubles such as the ability to afford health care and missed mortgage payments, shows that financial suffering among lower-income Americans has been three to five times the level of those earning $100,000 or more, over the course of the recession.

One of the biggest areas of disparity between the two groups in the past two years has been their ability to afford medical coverage and prescription medication. For more affluent Americans, affordability is a minor issue—fewer than 5% reported having difficulty paying. While it has been in decline in recent months, this has been a key problem for lower-income households during the recession—one-in-four at its peak.

The dream of home ownership among the two groups has also been a vastly different picture. Ninety-percent of affluent households claim to own a home while only half of the lower-income group can say the same. Missed mortgage payments among households earning less than $50,000 have soared, and are approaching 9% in June. Among the more affluent Americans, missed mortgage payment claims are below 2% and falling.

In addition to financial woes, the employment market remains a key factor in the gap amongst affluent and lower-income households during the recession.  The Consumer Reports Employment Index is a monthly measure of the change in employment of those that reported starting a new job versus those that have lost their job or were laid off in the past 30 days. An index score below 50 indicates more jobs were lost than gained, while a score more than 50 indicates more jobs were gained than lost in the past 30 days.

In the past two years, lower-income households (earning <$50K) have been burdened with declining prospects, and an employment environment that was shedding more jobs than it is creating for 23 of the past 24 months. In the meantime, more affluent Americans (earning $100K+), hardly experienced a decline, and have benefited from a much healthier market that appears to be adding more jobs than it is losing. 

According to Consumer Reports Retail Index, the growth in retail in the past year has been fueled nearly exclusively by the most affluent group of Americans. Spending among households earning less than $50,000 has been largely stagnant since June 2009.

The Consumer Reports Retail Index looks at consumer purchases in the past 30 days as well as the outlook for planned purchases in the next 30 days across several categories. The Consumer Reports Retail Index represents the proportion of respondents that made a purchase in the following categories: major home appliances, small home appliances, major home electronics, personal electronics, and major yard and garden equipment.

For more information regarding the report of two recoveries from the Consumer Reports Index, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.

About The Consumer Reports Index

The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. Interviews are conducted by both household telephone and cell phone among adults aged 18+. The margin of error is ± 3.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. The complete index report, methodology, and tabular information are available. Contact: C. Matt Fields 914-378-2454 .

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