NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Things have taken a turn for the worse on Main Street.
That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the latest iteration of the Consumer Distress Index, a gauge of consumer financial health issued on a quarterly basis by nonprofit credit counseling firm Credability. The index, which is on a 100-point scale, fell from 69.2 to 66.7 in the third quarter of 2011, according to numbers just released by the organization. That’s the biggest quarter-to-quarter drop in three years.
The index measures financial health in five categories: employment, housing, credit, household budgets and net worth. While credit scores improved and Americans’ collective net worth saw a slight uptick, big declines in the housing and household budget categories more than wiped out those gains.
“The fragile gains made during the past one and a half years have been swept away in a single quarter,” said Credability Chief Operating Officer Mark Cole in an official statement. “The mortgage delinquency rate is no longer improving and household budgets are being squeezed by rising gas and food costs.”
Indeed, that mortgage delinquency rate is particularly troubling, rising from 7.08% to 8.27% during the quarter.
The overall result is that only one state, North Dakota, is categorized by Credability as “stable” with respect to consumer financial health, as the Midwestern state continues to be bolstered by its strong hiring climate. And Nevada, whose high foreclosure and unemployment rates have been well-documented for years, is now categorized as a state in crisis, a characterization with which many economically beleaguered residents would likely agree.
If there’s one clear bright spot in the numbers, it’s that Americans continue to get their credit scores back on track even as the government struggles to do the same. The national score for the credit category rose two points to 84.95, as delinquency rates and household debt as a percentage of income both fell. It’s the best rating in that category in more than 15 years.