An Unhappy Anniversary of the Financial Meltdown

With the anniversary last week of Lehman Brothers’ collapse and the semi-official start of the global financial crisis, pollsters were checking in on how consumers felt a year after the deluge. And despite talk in recent months of “green shoots,” respondents to a number of early-September surveys remained  glum about the national economy and their personal financial condition.

In an ABC News/ Washington Post survey, 55 percent of respondents said the downturn has been a source of stress in their lives, including 33 percent rating the stress as “serious.” And that “serious stress” number is higher than in the bleak days of February, when it stood at 27 percent.

Thirty-one percent of respondents to an Associated Press/GfK survey said they worry “a lot” about being able to handle their bills — a proportion that has declined only modestly since February, when it was 38 percent in another AP/GfK poll.

The job market is plainly a leading factor in people’s gloom: 43 percent of the new AP/GfK poll’s respondents said they’re worried about losing their jobs. In the ABC News/Washington Post poll, a stunning 41 percent said someone in their household has had their pay or work hours reduced in the past year, while 27 percent said a household member has been laid off or otherwise lost a job.

It’s not as if people feel the worst of the recession is behind us. Gallup found 53 percent of respondents saying the economy is “getting worse,” vs. 41 percent saying it’s “getting better.” Giving a narrower time frame, the new AP/GfK poll found 25 percent saying the economy got better in the past month, while 21 percent said it got worse.

One telltale sign of how wary consumers still are: In Gallup’s polling, people’s “average daily spending” was 31 percent lower than it had been in the same part of September 2008. That is consistent with BIGresearch polling in which 30 percent of respondents reported deferring an apparel purchase in the prior 30 days and 28 percent said they had put off making a home-improvement purchase.