NEW YORK—The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Center for Microeconomic Data today released the December 2021 Survey of Consumer Expectations, which shows that both short- and medium-term inflation expectations were unchanged. Uncertainty and disagreement about future inflation decreased at both the short- and medium-term horizons. Home price expectations rose in December but remained below their May 2021 peak. Households reported increased optimism about their labor market prospects, with earnings growth, job loss, and job finding expectations all improving. Households' income growth expectations also improved, rising to a new series high.
The main findings from the December 2021 Survey are:
- Median one-year and three-year-ahead inflation expectations both remained unchanged in December at 6.0% and 4.0%, respectively. The Survey's measure of disagreement across respondents (the difference between the 75th and 25th percentile of inflation expectations) decreased at both the one- and three-year horizons.
- Median inflation uncertainty—or the uncertainty expressed regarding future inflation outcomes—decreased at the short- and medium-term horizons, retreating from their series highs recorded in November.
- Median home price expectations increased to 5.5% from 5.0% in November. The increase was driven by those below age 60 and those who live in the "South" and "West" Census regions.
- Expectations about year-ahead price changes fell by 3.5 percentage points for the price of gas (to 5.7%), 1.4 percentage points for food prices (to 7.8%), and 1.0 percentage point for the cost of a college education (to 8.1%). The median expected change in the price of medical care and rent remained unchanged at 9.6% and 10.0%, respectively.*
- Median one-year-ahead expected earnings growth increased by 0.2 percentage point in December to 3.0%. The increase was most pronounced for respondents with an annual household income below $50,000.
- Mean unemployment expectations—or the mean probability that the U.S. unemployment rate will be higher one year from now—decreased by 0.9 percentage point to 35.2%.
- The mean perceived probability of losing one's job in the next 12 months decreased by 1.3 percentage points to 11.6%. Similarly, the mean probability of leaving one's job voluntarily in the next 12 months decreased by 0.3 percentage point to 19.9%.
- The mean perceived probability of finding a job (if one's current job was lost) increased to 57.5% from 55.9% in November, its highest level since its pre-COVID reading of 58.7% in February 2020. The increase was driven by respondents at least 40 years old and those without a college degree.
- The median expected growth in household income increased by 0.2 percentage point to 3.4% in December, a new series high. The increase was most pronounced for respondents with no more than a high school diploma.
- Median household spending growth expectations declined to 5.5% from a series high of 5.7% in November. The decrease was driven by respondents with household income under $50,000 a year and those with no more than a high school diploma.
- Perceptions of credit access compared to a year ago slightly improved, with more respondents saying it is easier to obtain credit than one year ago on average. Expectations for future credit availability also improved, with more respondents expecting it will be easier to obtain credit in the year ahead compared to in November.
- The average perceived probability of missing a minimum debt payment over the next three months increased by 0.3 percentage point to 10.3%. The increase was driven by those with some college education.
- The median expectation regarding a year-ahead change in taxes (at current income level) decreased by 0.3 percentage point to 4.4%.
- Median year-ahead expected growth in government debt decreased by 1.6 percentage points to 10.8%, its fifth consecutive monthly decrease.
- The mean perceived probability that the average interest rate on saving accounts will be higher 12 months from now decreased by 0.5 percentage point to 28.2% in December.
- Perceptions about households' current financial situations compared to a year ago improved slightly. However, more households still reported a worse situation compared to a year ago than reporting an improved situation. Year-ahead expectations about households' financial situations also improved, with fewer households expecting to be worse off a year from now.
- The mean perceived probability that U.S. stock prices will be higher 12 months from now decreased slightly by 0.2 percentage point to 38.9%.
About the Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE)
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 regarding consumers' outlooks. 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 12 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, this panel allows us to observe the changes in expectations and behavior of the same individuals over time. For further information on the SCE, please refer to an overview of the survey methodology here, the interactive chart guide, and the survey questionnaire.
* Due to a data recording error in the “one-year ahead commodity price change expectations” series, the data for this series has been revised going back to October 2020.