American consumers say they reduced their spending in January to levels similar to early 2009, when the U.S. economy was still in recession, according to a Gallup poll released on Thursday.
The findings, which contradict U.S. data suggesting spending strength in January, showed consumers in all income brackets and geographic regions spending less in January vs. December in stores, restaurants, gas stations and online.
In many cases, Gallup said consumers spent less in the first month of 2010 than in January 2009, a weak economic period when monthly retail sales fell nearly 10 percent and the economy headed for a 6.4 percent first-quarter contraction.
Consumer spending during the first two weeks of February shows a similar pattern. Year-over-year comparisons show consumer spending returning to the new-normal range of last year, Gallup said.
President Barack Obama has made economic growth and job creation his top priorities for 2010, an election year for Congress.
The economy has grown for two straight quarters after the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Financial markets are now watching closely for signs that consumer spending can sustain the recovery after the effects of Obama's $787 billion stimulus and other temporary factors wane.
Last week, the Commerce Department reported U.S. retail sales rose an unexpected 0.5 percent in January as consumers stepped up spending for essential goods and luxury items.
But Gallup, which interviewed more than 14,000 adults, said its data show even upper-income consumers cutting back. The findings have an overall error margin of 1 percentage point.
Consumers with household incomes of $90,000 a year or more told Gallup they spent an average of $113 per day last month, down 14 percent from December's $132 and just above their $110 daily average of a year earlier, the data showed.
Middle- and lower-income consumers cut back daily spending by 13 percent to levels slightly below those of January 2009.
Women, often the decision-makers on household purchases, reduced spending 25 percent from December to January to a level 14 percent below that of January 2009, Gallup said.
Geographic data showed spending declines ranging from 18 percent in the Eastern United States to 11 percent in the South. Gallup said consumers in all U.S. regions except the South also reported January spending levels below those of a year earlier.