Consumer confidence has become an oxymoron.
And as confidence drops, some economists predict another recession is arriving.
Florida consumer confidence tumbled to a near-record low in August, University of Florida researchers said Tuesday. Meanwhile, a broader measure of U.S. consumer confidence plunged to its lowest level in more than two years as Americans' outlooks for employment, incomes and business conditions soured.
Florida's confidence index of 62 is only 3 points higher than the record-low 59 set in June 2008. Chris McCarty, who coordinates the monthly survey as UF's director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said it was remarkable that all five of components measured by the index fell this month. The index was 67 in July.
"If past history of this index is any indication, we are in, or at least very near, a recession," McCarty said. "We are not likely to know for certain until after the fourth quarter."
The biggest drops in confidence levels were among women and seniors. Confidence levels among women dropped 8 points to 59, while confidence among those 60 and older fell 9 points to 57. McCarty said the heated debate in Washington over raising the debt ceiling may have played a role.
Overall, perceptions of the country's economic conditions over the next year fell 6 points to 51 and perceptions of economic conditions over the next five years dropped 6 points to 63. Consumers also said they're more reluctant to buy big-ticket items like cars and appliances, and more people said their personal financial situation has worsened compared to a year ago.
UF's report is based on a monthly telephone survey. The index is benchmarked to 1966, so a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence as in year. The lowest index possible is a 2; the highest is 150.
The U.S. consumer confidence outlook was drawn from the Conference Board's index, which fell to 44.5, the weakest showing since April 2009 and a far bigger slide than economists were expecting. The New York-based research group said it was the single biggest point drop since October 2008.
Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said consumers have grown "significantly more pessimistic about the short-term outlook."
The debt debate, roiling stock markets and higher costs for food and clothing all factored into the pessimism. But the jobs outlook, in particular, has worsened sharply.
Those claiming that jobs are "hard to get" jumped to 49.1 percent from 44.8 percent, while those stating jobs are "plentiful" dropped to 4.7 percent from 5.1 percent. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased to 11.4 percent from 16.9 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs increased to 31.5 percent from 22.2 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes dropped to 14.3 percent from 15.9 percent.
Consumer confidence is considered key to avoiding another recession, because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the country's economic activity.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.