Press Release

Expectations About Consumers’ Financial Situations Remain Elevated, While Expectations About Government Debt Growth Climb

November 13, 2017

NEW YORK—The New York Fed’s Center for Microeconomic Data today released the October 2017 Survey of Consumer Expectations which shows persistent optimism about consumers’ year-ahead financial situations. The Survey also shows that consumers’ expectations of year-ahead growth in government debt increased again for the third consecutive month. While inflation expectations were relatively stable, year-ahead expectations of food price changes reached their lowest value since the start of our survey in June 2013.

The main findings from the October 2017 Survey are:

Inflation

  • Median inflation expectations were unchanged at the three-year horizon at 2.8%. They increased slightly at the one-year horizon from 2.5% in September to 2.6% in October.
  • Median inflation uncertainty—or the uncertainty expressed by respondents regarding future inflation outcomes—increased at both horizons.
  • Median home price change expectations were unchanged at 3.0%, remaining below its trailing 12-month average of 3.2%. Home price change uncertainty declined slightly.
  • The median one-year ahead expected gasoline price change decreased from 4.7% in September to 3.8% in October, while expectations for changes in food prices declined from 4.6% to 4.3%, a new series low. Expectations for changes in the cost of medical care and the cost of a college education increased from 9.3% to 9.7% and from 5.9% to 6.6%, respectively.

Labor Market

  • Median one-year ahead earnings growth expectations decreased from 2.3% in September to 2.1% in October, its third consecutive decline since reaching 2.6% in July of this year.
  • Mean unemployment expectations—or the mean probability that the U.S. unemployment rate will be higher one year from now—increased slightly from 35.7% in September to 36.0% in October, remaining just below its past year’s average of 36.7%.
  • Both the mean perceived probability of losing one’s job in the next 12 months and the mean probability of leaving one’s job voluntarily in the next 12 months increased from 13.8% to 15.3%, and 20.6% to 23.1%, respectively. The increase in the likelihood of job loss was broad-based across education and income groups, while the increase in the likelihood of a voluntary departure was driven by those without college degrees and incomes below $100,000.
  • The mean perceived probability of finding a job (if one’s current job was lost) decreased from 59.2% to 57.7%, remaining above its past year average of 56.8%.

Household Finance

  • One-year-ahead expectations of the household’s financial situations improved slightly, with 40.9% of respondents expecting to be better off financially, compared to 40.3% in September and 34.7% a year ago. Meanwhile, there was a decline in the proportion of respondents who expected their financial situations to worsen, with the share approaching a series’ low.
  • Median expected household income growth rebounded from its sharp drop in September to 2.6% in October, equal to its past year average.
  • Median household spending growth expectations increased from 2.7% in September to 2.8% in October, but remain below the trailing 12-month average of 3.1%. The increase was driven by lower-education (high school or less) and lower-income (below $100,000) respondents.
  • Expectations for year-ahead credit availability improved in October, with the proportion expecting a decline in credit access reaching a new series’ low. Perceptions of credit access compared to a year ago also improved.
  • The average perceived probability of missing a minimum debt payment over the next three months decreased from 13.4 % in September to 12.8% in October.
  • The median expectation regarding year-ahead change in taxes (at current income level) rose slightly from 2.2% in September to 2.3% in October, remaining close to the series low of 2.1% reached in February of this year.
  • The mean perceived probability that the average interest rate on saving accounts will be higher 12 months from now than it is today decreased slightly from 33.8% in September to 32.9% in October.
  • The mean perceived probability that U.S. stock prices will be higher 12 months from now than they are today increased from 42.0% in September to 42.9% in October, equal to its trailing 12-month average of 42.9%. 
  • Median year-ahead expected growth in government debt saw its third consecutive increase from 4.9% in July to 5.7% in September and to 5.9% in October, a level not seen since a year ago.  

About the Survey of Consumer Expectations

The SCE contains information about how consumers expect overall inflation and prices for food, gas, housing and education to behave. It also provides insight into Americans’ views about job prospects and earnings growth and their expectations about future spending and access to credit. The SCE also provides measures of uncertainty in expectations for the main outcomes of interest. Expectations are also available by age, geography, income, education and numeracy. 

The SCE is a nationally representative, internet-based survey of a rotating panel of approximately 1,300 household heads. Respondents participate in the panel for up to twelve months, with a roughly equal number rotating in and out of the panel each month. Unlike comparable surveys based on repeated cross-sections with a different set of respondents in each wave, our panel allows us to observe the changes in expectations and behavior of the same individuals over time.

The survey is conducted on our behalf by The Demand Institute, a non-profit organization jointly operated by The Conference Board and Nielsen. The sampling frame for the SCE is based on that used for The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey (CCS). Respondents to the CCS, itself based on a representative national sample drawn from mailing addresses, are invited to join the SCE internet panel.

Contact
Betsy Bourassa
(212) 720-6885
betsy.bourassa@ny.frb.org