Easy Street

Survey: Americans are stressed out

Karl Baker Apr 13, 2012

It has been almost three years since the end of the Great Recession, but American consumers feel stressed. More stressed, in fact, than at any time since September 2009. 

That’s according to the latest monthly survey from Consumer Reports. Its Stress Index climbed to 64.3 in March, from 57.5 in February.  These results are based on a telephone survey of 1,000 people, who were asked whether they felt more or less stress than one year ago.  Any figure above 50 indicates that more people are stressed out than not.

What’s more, the lower one’s income, the higher the stress. Respondents from households with less than $50,000 in annual income reported more stress than those with incomes of more than $100,000.

The Consumer Reports Stress Index has jumped in the past two months, and Ed Farrell, one of the authors of the survey, says it’s correlated with consumer sentiment, which declined for the second month to 44.6 — a figure that implies pessimism.

“It’d be hard to make the case that consumers believe the recession is over,” says Farrell.

He also pointed to an increase in financial difficulties for lower and middle income Americans as part of the reason for the bad vibes.

Almost a quarter of households earning less than $50,000 a year, for example, were unable to afford a medical bill in March, the survey said.  In addition, more than one in eight households at that income level missed a payment on a major — non-mortgage related — bill. 

The negative figures are generally consistent with other economic indicators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said last week that the U.S. economy added 120,000 new jobs —  a figure below analysts’ expectations.   

These evolving conditions of the economy, however, have affected various income groups differently.  According to the survey, 39 percent of households making $50,000 or less said they were worse off financially last month than one year ago.  Meanwhile, that number was only 14 percent for high-income households — those who earn more than $100,000 a year.

Farrell argues that for the economy to fully recover, it is lower income consumers that have to see light at the end of their financial tunnels.

“You gotta get the Wal-Mart crowd engaged,” he said.  

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