Consumer confidence continued its downward slide this week as the full economic impact of Hurricane Katrina becomes increasingly clear, according to the latest release of the Washington Post-ABC News Consumer Comfort survey.
Most strikingly, 60 percent of Americans said the U.S. economy is getting worse, with one in 10 saying it is getting better and three in 10 seeing no change. This marks a 19-percentage point increase since mid-August in the proportion of people that said the nation's economy is worsening, the most dramatic one-month jump in pessimism in 24 years.
Last month, four in 10 said the economy was getting worse, four in 10 saw no change, and close to two in 10 (16 percent) said it was getting better.
Overall, economic pessimism as measured by this question has not topped 60 percent since December 1991, a time when the country was 16 months into a recession and President George H. W. Bush was facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency.
In a nationally televised speech last week, President George W. Bush -- now also facing his worst job approval scores -- vowed the federal government would play a central role in reconstructing devastated New Orleans. Although the administration has not released a specific cost estimate, officials have suggested the price tag could exceed $200 billion.
Overall, the Post-ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stood at -23, down three points from last week and 14 points from this time last month. This marks the lowest index score in more than two years.
Of the three components that make up the index -- ratings of respondents' personal finances, the national economy and the buying climate -- consumers' views of whether now is a good time to buy also stand out as particularly depressed. Three in 10 Americans (31 percent) said now was an "excellent" or "good" time to buy the things they needed. Although this measure has been hovering in the low thirties since the spring, it had not gone as low as 31 percent in more than 10 years.
The CCI is computed as a rolling average based on telephone interviews with 1,000 randomly selected adults over the previous four-week period. Across its 19-year history the index -- which is measured on a scale of -100 to 100 -- has averaged -9, ranging from a high of 38 in Jan. 2000 to a low of -50 in Feb. 1992.
The latest index is based on interviews conducted through Sept. 18. Margin of sampling error for the results of individual questions is plus or minus three percentage points. The item measuring the perceived direction of the economy is based on 500 interviews and is reported monthly. The margin of error for this result is plus or minus 4 points.