Economy Watch: Americans Not Quite as Optimistic Now, Retail Might Suffer

The latest national survey on U.S. economic optimism by Pew Research Center, which was conducted in mid-December, finds that most Americans (54 percent) expect that economic conditions a year from now to be about the same as they are now, while similar shares expect the economy to get worse (22 percent) or better (20 percent). Optimism is an indirect but important factor in retail property health, since optimistic people tend to spend more of their income.

While more than half of the survey’s respondents expecting no change seems like a reasonably good response, that represents a shift from January 2015, when economic optimism was on the upswing. A year ago, 31 percent of Pew respondents expected the economy to get better over the coming year, compared with 17 percent who expected it to get worse. Fifty-one percent expected little change in economic conditions.

Still, Americans are somewhat more likely to say their incomes are keeping pace with the cost of living than said that so a year ago, and perceptions of job availability continue to improve modestly, which are positives for retail spending. Currently, 42 percent say their family’s incomes are staying roughly even with the cost of living, up from 37 percent in January 2015. Nearly half (49 percent) say their incomes are falling behind, down from 55 percent. Few people—7 percent now—say their incomes are actually going up faster than the cost of living.

Those with family incomes of $30,000 or less per year are almost twice as likely as those with incomes of $100,000 or more to view current economic conditions as poor (35 percent vs. 19 percent), according to Pew Research, which is unsurprising. Even so, economic expectations for the coming year vary only modestly by education and income. Those with family incomes of at least $100,000 are no more likely than those with incomes of less than $30,000 to say the economy will better a year from now (24 percent vs. 22 percent).