Middle Class Slams Brakes On Spending

Posted By on October 6, 2010

Middle Class Slams Brakes on Spending
    By SARA MURRAY

Middle-class Americans made their deepest spending cuts in more than two decades, slashing spending on such discretionary items as restaurant meals and alcohol during the recession.

Households in the middle fifth of the population sliced their average annual spending to $41,150 in 2009, the Labor Department said Tuesday in its annual spending breakdown. That was down 3.1% from 2007 and 3.5% from 2008, the steepest one-year drop since records began in 1984. The drop came even as those households’ after-tax income remained relatively stable over the two years, at an average $45,199.

Meanwhile, the poorest Americans spent more as prices for necessities like food and rental housing climbed. Spending rose 5.6% from 2007 to 2009 for the poorest fifth of consumers, the most of any other income group, despite a 5.5% drop in after-tax income to an average $9,956 a household. In some cases, elderly people and others with low incomes dipped into savings or relied on credit to get by.

“What you’re looking at here is people at the bottom trying to hang on,” said Timothy Smeeding, public affairs professor and director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “You can’t go below a certain level.”

Average annual expenditures for people in all income groups dropped 2.8% from 2008 to 2009, the first spending decline on record. The numbers don’t account for inflation, which has been significant in some areas such as food and rent. One consistently rising cost for all income groups was health care, where spending rose 9.6% from 2007 to 2009 as the cost of care climbed.

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