U.S. middle class prioritizes debt, not spending

By Sarah Cunningham-Scharf | March 24, 2015 | Last updated on March 24, 2015
1 min read

U.S. consumer confidence has returned to pre-crisis levels, but overall spending hasn’t.

The sustained decline in U.S. unemployment from nearly 10% to 5.7% between 2009 and 2014 underscores the improvement in consumer confidence, says Jean-Baptiste Nadal, managing director and lead portfolio manager at Metropolitan West Capital Management in Los Angeles.

Plus, he adds, the strengthening economy and the more recent, sharp drop in gas prices has supported people’s optimism.


But, “what’s missing in this recovery is consumers’ strong propensity to spend, particularly [in] the middle class,” says Nadal. “The current U.S. savings rate of 5% is significantly above the level it was before the start of the financial crisis because consumers are eager to pay down their debts.”

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Further, employers are remaining cautious and, as such, “growth in average hourly income has [also] been quite subdued.”

Delving deeper, Nadal finds there’s disparity between the spending habits of high- and low-income earners, and that of middle-income earners. “Luxury goods and discount brands have done very well, while brands in the middle ground are performing sluggishly.”


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Sarah Cunningham-Scharf