Consumer Confidence Low, Mintel Report Shows

Economy leads half of Americans to think other countries offer better opportunities than the U.S.

Confidence is a distinctly American quality, but are Americans dusting off the gloom of poor economic conditions and moving on?

According to the latest research by Mintel on consumers’ attitudes about the economy, folks in the U.S. are not looking at the future through rose-colored glasses. Indeed, almost three in four (72%) U.S. consumers think younger generations will have a more difficult time than they had, and nearly half (49%) think that other countries offer better opportunities than the U.S.

Mintel’s research also shows that it’s not just younger generations who have had a hard time in the current economic climate. It is actually younger Baby Boomers—those aged 45-54 and at the peak of their earning years—who are the least likely to say that their finances are healthy. In fact, 41% of this group indicate that their household financial situation is “tight,” “struggling” or “just getting by” five years after the recession, compared to 37% of Gen X (35-44 year olds) and 33% of consumers overall.

“The fact that younger Boomers are struggling with their household finances is bad news for economic growth, as it is this age group which is usually at the peak of their earning power, and has traditionally been a primary driver of consumer spending and therefore of the economy,” said Susan Menke, vice president, financial services at Mintel. “This is also problematic for younger generations, as these younger Boomers will likely delay retirement for financial reasons, which will impact the already difficult job prospects for Millennials and Gen Xers.”

And when it comes to financial goals, consumers in the U.S. are strongly focused on saving money for a rainy day and achieving or maintaining good credit. Some 76% feel that having good credit is key to economic success and 87% of Americans are prioritizing paying their bills on time. In addition, consumers are prioritizing short term savings over saving for the long term—an indication that they do not feel they have enough saved for contingencies. Some 81% are focusing on saving for emergencies or unexpected events, while 72% would like to add to, or increase the amount saved for retirement.

“Most consumers are living paycheck to paycheck and do not have nearly enough in their savings accounts to feel they are prepared for unexpected events, or to be able to maintain their current lifestyles in retirement. When credit was freely available and the housing market was booming, consumers felt that they could rely on these as sources of funds for those needs. However, that is no longer the case, and consumers have refocused their financial priorities. So even though households have the capacity to take on more credit, it doesn’t mean that they will. It is probable that the recession has created a new kind of consumer, one that is more conservative and has a renewed focus on achieving financial security by different means,” Menke explained.

Interestingly, Mintel’s research also shows that higher incomes aren’t necessarily experiencing a greater degree of financial security than other income groups. Some 10% of those with $150K+ in household income say they are struggling or just getting by, as are 16% of households with income of $100K-149.9K.

These income groups are experiencing some wage stagnation as well, with almost half (47%) of those earning $150K+ expecting their salaries to remain the same over the coming year. Other household income groups have the same expectations. Over half (57%) of U.S. consumers overall are expecting a continuation of the status quo for their income in 2013, and half (50%) think the same about the total amount in their savings accounts.

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