The mood of America is slowly improving at the start of 2012, with people in California and San Diego among the most optimistic.
According to the latest Citibank California Pulse survey, 66 percent of Californians say their personal finances will be better this year than in 2011, and 52 percent have faith the state’s economy will improve as well.
Here in San Diego, 62 percent of the people surveyed say their personal finances will get better this year.
“We are pleased to see this optimism going into the new year and that many Californians are looking forward to improving conditions in 2012,” said Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann, president of Citibank California.
“Our survey continues to show the incredible resilience and pride of Californians, which is a great sign for the state’s future.”
No factors have a bigger impact on consumer attitudes than jobs and income. The California Pulse survey finds 51 percent of people in the state believe job opportunities will brighten in California this year. And 47 percent of those in San Diego felt the same.
A recent report from Sentier Research shows median household incomes increased by 4 percent in the second half of 2011 from $49,434 to $51,413.
“This upward trend in household income embodies both the added earnings of unemployed household members finding jobs and changes in earnings that result from shifts in wage rates or hours worked for members with existing jobs,” said Gordon Green of Sentier Research.
He points out the current level of median income is still 7 percent lower than December 2007, when households were earning $55,297.
“Prospects for continued improvement in the labor market, and subsequently household income, are uncertain, and we must, therefore, continue to monitor the survey data closely in future months,” he said.
The increase in income has played a big role in the increase in spending that fueled the holiday shopping season and has carried over into 2012. The National Retail Federation reports Americans spent $471.5 billion during the Christmas season in 2011, up 4.1 percent from the previous year.
Over the last 18 months, retailers have been on the forefront of the economic recovery, creating jobs, encouraging consumer spending and investing in America, said Matthew Shay, president of the federation.
The group is forecasting consumers will spend $2.53 trillion in 2012, up 3.4 percent over the previous year, a pace ahead of the predicted increase in the nation’s gross domestic product of between 2.1 to 2.4 percent.
“Our 2012 forecast is a vote of confidence in the retail industry and our ability to succeed even in a challenging economy,” Shay said.
Of course, there are still some concerns about the ability of consumers to snap back to pre-recession spending levels with the housing market still in trouble and other headwinds — especially those from Washington, D.C. — facing the overall economy.
The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index released last week declined in January for the fifth consecutive month. It tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.
“A sharp fall in real estate prices primarily contributed to the decline in the index,” said Carl Steidtmann of Deloitte. “While initial unemployment claims ticked lower, real wages and the tax burden showed no improvement, leaving little to offset the housing market’s negative impact.”
However, two occasions associated with discretionary spending don’t seem to suggest consumers are backing off. More than $11 billion was spent on food and merchandise for the recent Super Bowl, and the National Retail Federation is anticipating Americans will spend $17 billion as part of the traditional celebration of Valentine’s Day.