Consumers Cut Back But Still Need TV

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Americans are saving more money in the recession, and because of this, we are beginning to rethink which items are worth buying.

According to a survey released last week from the Pew Research Center, consumers are now less likely to view common household items like microwaves, cell phones and clothes dryers as “necessary” purchases, instead labeling them as “luxuries.”

“From 1996 through 2006 -- a period of economic expansion and heavy consumer spending -- a rising share of Americans saw more items on the list as necessities rather than luxuries,” Pew Research reports. “Since 2006 -- as the housing bubble burst, the economy sank into a deep recession and consumer spending throttled down -- the trend has moved the opposite way. A rising share now sees more everyday items as luxuries than necessities.”

Of the nearly 3,000 adults surveyed, just 59% believed that a clothes dryer was a necessary purchase, which is 7% fewer than last year and about 20% fewer than four years ago. Similarly, there is a downward trend in the number of people who view cars and microwaves as necessary, with both declining 2% year over year.

Yet, the most surprising statistic on the list may be our views on television purchases. According to the survey, just 42% of Americans now believe television sets are necessary (a 10% decline from last year). However, 10% of Americans now believe flat screen television are necessary, a 2% increase from last year.

Pew Research Group offered no explanation for this anomaly, except to label it as an indication that we have a “schizophrenic relationship” with our televisions. However, we would wager that much of it comes down to marketing. These days, flat screen televisions have taken over the display floor at electronics retailers like Best Buy, and there are a ton of deals leading consumers to believe that now is the time to buy them.

So, to all the economists and policy makers out there worried about the decline in consumer spending, the answer is clear. Forget about another stimulus package and start pumping out more ads for flat screens. This economic recovery will be brought to you by Samsung and Panasonic.

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