Confidence Falls Among Upper Income Households

Richard Curtin, Director Surveys of Consumers and Survey Research Center
Richard Curtin. Image courtesy of D.C. Goings ANN ARBOR, Mich.
ANN ARBOR, Mich–(ENEWSPF)–June 29, 2012.  Consumer confidence posted a sizable loss in June, with most of the overall decline in how consumers viewed future prospects for the national economy, according to University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, director of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. The Surveys, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), have been monitoring consumer attitudes and expectations for over 60 years.

“Perhaps of greater importance was that the entire June decline was among households with incomes above $75,000,” said Curtin. “Higher income households were not only less optimistic about economic prospects but viewed their own financial prospects much less favorably.” The percent of upper income households that expected improved finances in the year ahead fell to 24 percent in June from 37 percent in May. Lower income households, in contrast, benefitted to a greater degree from the recent declines in gas prices, which completely offset their less favorable outlook for the economy.

“The overall June decline would normally be consistent with a somewhat slower spending growth rate,” said Curtin. “The sharp declines among upper income households, however, may have a greater impact on the economy since their spending accounts for a large share of the total. The June loss among higher income households was associated with a large drop in favorable ratings of economic policies and a growing recognition that federal policies to bridge the fiscal cliff will not even be discussed until the very last minute. This meant that they wanted to adopt more cautious spending plans now to protect their finances from potentially adverse developments.”

Job Growth Stalls

News reports about recent economic developments reaching consumers have become increasingly negative. Reports of job losses for the first time in six months have outnumbered job gains. For the first time this year, consumers were more likely to expect increases in the unemployment rate than additional declines. Confidence in economic policies remained near record lows, as just 10% of all consumers judged current policies favorable.

Buying Plans Decline Among Upper Incomes

Buying plans were unchanged among lower income households but were much less favorable among those with incomes above $75,000. Favorable vehicle buying attitudes declined by 10% among upper income households but were unchanged among lower income households. Favorable buying plans for large household durables fell by 14% among higher income households compared with a loss of just 1% among lower income households.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The Sentiment Index was 73.2 in June 2012, down from 79.3 in May, but remaining slightly ahead of the 71.5 in last June’s survey. The June loss was nearly evenly split between the current and expected components of the Sentiment Index. The monthly loss in the Expectations Index was a bit larger, falling to 67.8 in June from 74.3 in May, but it was still above last year’s 64.7. The Current Conditions Index declined to 81.5 from 87.2 in May, and nearly equal last year’s 82.0.

Surveys of Consumers: Thomson Reuters / University of Michigan

About the survey

The Surveys of Consumers is a rotating panel survey based on a nationally representative sample that gives each household in the coterminous U.S. an equal probability of being selected. Interviews are conducted throughout the month by telephone. The minimum monthly change required for significance at the 95% level in the Sentiment Index is 4.8 points; for Current and Expectations Indices, the minimum is 6.0 points.

Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and in educating researchers and students from around the world. ISR conducts some of the most widely cited studies in the nation, including the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, the world’s largest digital social science data archive. For more information, visit the ISR website at

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