Anxious Americans in no mood to spend

A Santa Claus toy is displayed on a shelf. Retailers are worrying about slow sales during the holiday shopping season.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:
So, you're a consumer, right?
Maybe a little bit gun-shy these days.
Not spending as much as you ordinarily might?
Holding a little tighter to your disposable income, are you?
Yeah, I know exactly how you feel.
And so do the folks who put out the monthly consumer confidence report.
The last time the numbers were anywhere near this bad was December 1974, as Marketplace's Steve Henn explains.


Steve Henn: 1974 wasn't the best year. Oil prices were up more than 230 percent--inflation was on a tear, unemployment was rising and Barry Manilow released Mandy.

Tape of Barry Manilow: I remember all my life.

But as bad as that was, according to the Conference Bureau, Americans believe our economic future is even bleaker today.

Man: Everybody is suffering.

From bank presidents to Mamadou Ballo who says sales are down dramatically at his street corner jewelry stand in Downtown Washington--despite the bargains.

Customer: This is $10 also?

Mamadou Ballo: I'll give it for eight.

Customer: Okay.

Across the street, Zack Smith plays the sax for tips.

Zack Smith: People are stopping but not as many as there used to be.

He's staked out a metro station four Ack hours this morning and has less than $40 to show for it.

Smith: It ain't that people don't stop--a lot of people just don't have got money to give. It's tight.

Around the corner, clerks at a lunch counter called the Daily Market, say business is off 30 percent. Their customer Karen White is pulling back.

Karen White: Especially for the holidays--I think it is a good wise move to be kinda conservative right now.

But on this blustery fall day in Washington, Zack is still hoping to change the mood.
But when consumers reach the top of the escalator and see the slate grey sky, they know it ain't summertime. And the living ain't easy.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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