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Economic Pessimism Highest in 17 Years

Pessimism about the economy has jumped to its highest level since November 1990, according to the Washington Post-ABC News Consumer Comfort Index.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse, a 13-percentage-point increase since October, and nearly 30 points above the long-term average for the question.

In the same survey, two-thirds say the economy is "not so good" or "poor" while the overall Consumer Comfort Index (CCI) stands at -19, nearly matching its low for 2007. Both numbers have stagnated at about the same level since late-August.

A widespread perception that a recession is looming could be behind the gloom and doom outlook. A Post-ABC survey released earlier this month found that 69 percent said a recession was very or somewhat likely in the next year, and 14 percent cited the economy and jobs as their top concern for the upcoming presidential contest.

Earlier this fall, the CCI showed some signs of improvement. By late-September, it had climbed from its 2007 low of -20 to -11 as consumers' perceptions of their own finances improved and gas prices fell (pump prices are historically correlated to consumers' ratings of the buying climate and the economy).

Since then it has gradually deflated as economic news on the volatility in the housing and stock markets have captivated the nation's attention and gas prices have again bumped over $3 a gallon.

More than four in 10 in the Pew Research Center's most recent weekly news interest index said they were following the news about rising oil prices "very closely," ranking this pocketbook issue above the war in Iraq, the 2008 presidential campaign and the political turmoil in Pakistan.

The CCI is a measure of consumer confidence, calculated on a scale of -100 to +100 using responses to three economic questions. They cover the state of the national economy, personal finances and whether it's a good time to make purchases.

The Post-ABC CCI is a rolling average based on telephone interviews with 1,000 randomly selected adults conducted over a four-week period which ended Nov. 18. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The once-a-month expectations question was asked of 500 respondents in interviews Nov. 4-18. That question has margin of sampling error of four points.

Q: Do you think the nation's economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying the same?

BetterWorseStaying the sameNo opinion
Jan. 14, 2007: Best of 20071834452
Nov. 1, 1990: All-time low477190
Long-term avg.2039401

More information on the Washington Post-ABC News Consumer Comfort Index can be found here.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  November 20, 2007; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Post-ABC Consumer Comfort Index  
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