By Bernard Condon & Jeannine Aversa, AP Business Writers
Even as the economic recovery plods ahead, many American consumers are refusing to come along.
They're not spending freely — and they have no plans to.
Many of them have steady income. They aren't saddled by high debts. They don't fear losing their jobs. Yet despite recent gains, they've lost so much household wealth that they're far more cautious about spending than before the recession.
Their behavior suggests that the Great Recession may have bred a new frugality that will endure well into the recovery. And because consumers fuel about 70% of the economy, their tightfisted habits means the rebound could stay unusually sluggish.
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That's the picture that emerges from an Associated Press survey of leading economists and interviews with more than two dozen ordinary Americans. The new AP Economy Survey asked 44 leading economists whether the recession created a "new frugality" among consumers that will outlive the recession. Two-thirds said yes.
They had in mind people like Marjorie Feldman of suburban St. Louis, who retired three years ago as a systems analyst for a utility company. The stock investments in her retirement account have sunk 15% from 2007. The value of her home is down 20%.
"I had retired assuming I'd make money" off the investments, said Feldman, who's in her early 60's. "I just don't feel as confident in the economy, and I never will again. I won't spend money the way I used to."
Feldman's husband works full time in academia. She has a part time job preparing tax returns at H&R Block. But her prime earning years are behind her.
"I don't think it will ever get back to where it was before," she said of her nest egg. "I won't spend money the way I used to."
Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody's Economy.com, notes that baby boomers, in particular, enjoyed spending sprees for most of their adult lives as their assets steadily grow.
"But the recession changed that," Hoyt said. "Many have retirement and children's education looming. All of a sudden, they see their balance sheets decline in a way they've never seen before."