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CR Index: Better jobs outlook, lower financial stress

Consumer Reports News: January 17, 2012 06:08 AM

January’s Consumer Reports Index, a measure of consumers’ overall financial health, shows that consumer sentiment and employment have climbed, while their stress has diminished and their financial difficulties have moderated compared to past months.

January’s Consumer Reports Sentiment Index, which measures how consumers are doing financially versus a year ago, was up from 45.4 last month to 48.2. This month’s Stress Index, which captures attitudes regarding the amount of stress consumers feel compared to a year ago, dropped to 56.0 from 61.6 in December and is at its lowest level of the past year.

CR-indexJan12_img2.jpgThe Consumer Reports Employment Index moved back into positive territory, up to 50.6 from 49.6 last month, with past 30-day job gains (6.1 percent) outpacing job losses (4.8).

Unfortunately, the improvements in employment were not broad-based. Women, those over the age of 34, and Americans in households earning less than $50,000 lost more jobs than they gained.

The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index, which addresses both the proportion of financial troubles that consumers have faced as well as the number of hurdles they have encountered, remained virtually unchanged for the fourth straight month. However, a substantially higher number of Americans (15.7 percent) reported they were unable to afford their medical bills or medications in the past 30 days compared to the previous month (12.8).

The Past 30-Day Retail Index for January, which covers some key purchases consumers made in December, was 15.0, up from 13.9 last month. December’s retail growth was led by strong sales in personal electronics.

But the Next 30-Day Retail Index, which reflects anticipated spending in January, was down to 7.9 compared to 12.7 last month. "Despite a better economic outlook overall, the strong retail activity this holiday season may lead to a January hangover, with planned spending down from last year," said Ed Farrell, director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center. "Though retail was strong this holiday season, December was a disappointment, with activity lagging behind last year. The early start of the season by retailers stole December sales and moved them into November."

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. A total of 1,014 interviews were completed (764 telephone and 250 cell phone) among adults aged 18 and older. Interviewing took place between January 5 and January 8. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Mandy Walker

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