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U.S. Consumers Brace For Long-Term Economic Woes
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U.S. Consumers Brace For Long-Term Economic Woes

Most U.S. consumers (86%) believe the country is currently in a recession, and more than half (54%) believe it will last longer than 12 months, Nielsen reported Monday.

The findings come from Nielsen’s Global Online Consumer Survey, conducted in 52 markets worldwide between September 22 and October 6, 2008.

Only 18% of respondents said they believe the recession will be over within a year.  Younger survey participants (ages 25 to 29) expressed the least amount of confidence, with just 6% saying the recession would be over within 12 months.  Older respondents (ages 65 and older) were also pessimistic about an immediate end to the recession — only 7% told Nielsen they believe the recession will be limited to one year.

More women than men (91% vs. 82%) feel the U.S. economy is in recession.  Men were also more optimistic than women about their personal finances — 39% of females described their finances over the next 12 months as “not so good,” compared with just 28% of males.  In addition, only 16% of women surveyed think their job prospects over the next 12 months will be good, compared to 26% of men.

Of those surveyed, 38% told Nielsen the ailing U.S. economy will be their biggest concern over the next six months.  Increasing fuel prices were the top concern for 10% of respondents, followed by debt (9%), increasing utility bills (7%), increasing food prices (5%), and job security (5%).

“By the end of the second quarter, most U.S. consumers had already come to the conclusion the country was in recession,” James Russo, vice president, Marketing, Nielsen, noted.  “As far as consumers are concerned, it doesn’t particularly matter that a growing number of economic indicators are pointing in that direction.  They were feeling pain in their wallets and bank accounts long before October’s tumultuous stock market activity.”

In order to cope with their economic woes, U.S. consumers told Nielsen they are trying to reduce their use of gas and electricity (67%), cutting back on out-of-home entertainment (56%), spending less on new clothes (55%), and using their cars less often (54%).  Just 4% report taking no action at all.

Those who do have extra money left after paying the bills told Nielsen they are hesitant to spend it.  After covering essential living expenses, 38% of U.S. consumers put any spare cash into savings, while 36% use it to pay off debts, credit cards, or loans.  Nearly a quarter of consumers (24%) report having no spare cash. 

View the full press release.

Read a related press release on consumer confidence in Hong Kong.

View results from Nielsen’s global survey of consumer confidence.

Learn more about the current state of the U.S. retail sector.

Read coverage of Nielsen’s findings in Seeking Alpha, Adweek, and Convenience Store News.

Learn more about global consumer confidence levels in the December 2008 issue of Nielsen’s “Consumer Insight” online newsletter.