The Federal Reserve keeps a close eye on consumer spending — which makes sense, considering that consumers power about 70% of U.S. economic growth.
On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released its Household Spending Survey for December, and it shows that people are cutting back. But why?
Ask random people why they’re pulling back their spending, and one word keeps popping up: “For me it’s mostly been about inflation,” writer Susan Visakowitz said on a random street in Brooklyn, New York. “The way prices have been creeping up or things have been shrinking in size. And I definitely feel like my grocery bills have been going up.”
The New York Fed is also talking to consumers, although more scientifically than we are. It found spending peaked over the summer and has been falling ever since. People are still spending more than they did a year ago — typically 7.7% more last month.
But remember, consumer inflation was up 6.5% in December, so most of the rise in spending is just people paying more for the same stuff.
“While it’s constructive for the economy that consumers are still getting out there — they’re still spending — much of this higher figure is reflecting a higher inflation number,” said Lauren Goodwin, an economist at New York Life Investments.
Consumers might also be cutting back because they’re worried about how much they’re borrowing, Goodwin said. The New York Fed survey asked what people would do with an unexpected 10% increase in their income, and about one-third said they’d use it to pay down debt.
Consumers are also watching recession clouds on the horizon, said Ryan Sweet, U.S. chief economist at Oxford Economics.
“When the unemployment rate starts to rise, that’s going to really start to affect people’s psychology. When they see their friends or family getting laid off, they typically run for the bunker because they start getting worried about their job security,” he said. “And that affects their spending behavior.”
The New York Fed survey found that even households with incomes over $100,000 a year say they’ll slow their spending this year.
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