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Mental Recession?


Thus, on average, there appears to have been about a five-point increase in the percentage of Americans who worry about money, when the current situation is compared to that which obtained for the first eight months of the year. The large sample sizes involved in this tracking — about 3,500 interviews per seven-day rolling average — underscore the conclusion that while the increase in worry is not large on an absolute basis, it is significant and meaningful.

At the same time, it is worth noting that fewer Americans report personally having worried about money than report a negative evaluation of the U.S. economy. The latter has been running at about a 75% to 80% negative rating in recent days, almost twice as high as the financial worry number. In other words, Americans are much more likely to report having a negative view of the overall economy than they are to say they personally worried about money. This is another indication that Americans remain personally resilient in the face of the highly negative economic news and environment that engulf the country at this time.

If you’re a person of means, then get out there and splurge a little bit, preferably on American-made goods or services. Stuff’s cheap right now! Take your significant other out to your favorite local bistro, which will have a good table available. Plan a trip to Vegas, which has some bargain-basement hotel rates available. Buy your teenager that copy of Rock Band; she’ll enjoy it, and it’s probably on her Christmas list anyway. Take the family out to a good movie. Pick up a copy of that book your friend was telling you about.

This is not to diminish the realities of the recession. But, after a decade or so of spending outside their means, Americans seem almost to feel guilty right now about spending money. This is exactly the opposite of what the economy needs. The structural problems of the financial sector are liable to take a long time to untangle, but if consumers signal that they’ve weathered the storm and are prepared to start consuming again, then jobs and investment capital will follow.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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