Money Talks

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How have the events of Sept. 11 affected consumer spending? The answer is complex, given several additional factors contributing to changes in spending patterns. A sliding stock market, massive layoffs, corporate scandals — all have marked the economy of the past year, and each on its own would have been enough to have influenced the way people behaved at the cash register. Federal data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (which details spending over the past year) won't be available until late 2003 at the earliest, and statistics on spending from private market research firms are also at least a few months away. In an effort to gain some early insight, we decided to attach the following question to one of our exclusive surveys: “Which of the following categories have you spent a greater share of your income on since Sept. 11?�

The question was posed to a nationally representative sample of 2,500 adults by Greenwich, Conn.-based NFO WorldGroup between June 12 and 20, 2002. The specific categories asked about are listed in the chart on the next page. Respondents could answer “yes� to as many categories as were applicable, and if there were unlisted areas in which respondents felt they had spent more money, they had the option to name those as well. Respondents could also indicate if they had not spent a greater share of their dollars on any category.

According to our findings, more than half (52 percent) of all Americans say they have altered their spending habits in at least one consumer category since the attacks. The chart details the percentage of adults, by demographic, who state that they have spent a greater share of their income on a particular category. For instance, 24 percent of all Americans say that, since Sept. 11, they have spent a greater portion of their hard-earned dollars on groceries to prepare meals at home, compared with 15 percent who say they've spent more going out to eat. Almost 1 in 3 adults with children age 18 or under (30 percent) has spent more money on food at home in the past year than they did prior to the attacks. What follows is a demographic snapshot of where the money has gone since Sept. 11.

Still Spending

Ten percent of Americans say they have spent a greater share of their income on gifts to themselves, and 19 percent have spent more on gifts to their family members since Sept. 11. Blacks, however, are even more likely to have spent a little extra on themselves (23 percent) and their loved ones (23 percent) in the past year.

PERCENT OF AMERICANS WHO SAY THEY HAVE SPENT A GREATER SHARE OF THEIR INCOME ON THE FOLLOWING CATEGORIES SINCE SEPT. 11, BY DEMOGRAPHIC:

GIFTS TO FAMILY GIFTS TO SELF HOME FURNISHINGS HOME ACCESSORIES (CANDLES, ART) VACATIONS ENTERTAINMENT OUT OF THE HOME (MOVIES, CONCERTS) ENTERTAINMENT IN THE HOME (VIDEOS, CDS) RESTAURANT FOOD GROCERIES TO PREPARE MEALS AT HOME
Total 19% 10% 10% 10% 12% 10% 19% 15% 24%
Gender
Men 14% 10% 10% 7% 11% 9% 20% 14% 21%
Women 23% 11% 12% 10% 12% 11% 18% 16% 27%
Age
18-24 * * * * * 29% 30% 23% 24%
25-34 18% 13% 10% 12% 13% 14% 25% 17% 24%
35-44 23% 10% 12% 13% 11% 11% 25% 15% 31%
45-54 18% 10% 11% 10% 11% 9% 15% 13% 23%
55-64 17% 10% 11% * 15% * 13% 17% 21%
65+ 15% * 6% * 10% * 10% 12% 18%
Region
South 21% 11% 10% 11% 11% 10% 22% 16% 28%
Northeast 17% 11% 10% 8% 14% 9% 16% 14% 21%
North Central 19% 9% 13% 10% 11% 10% 19% 13% 23%
West 15% 10% 8% 8% 12% 11% 16% 17% 20%
Race/Ethnicity
White 18% 8% 10% 9% 12% 9% 17% 15% 23%
Black 23% 23% * * * 14% 21% 10% 27%
Hispanic** 14% 12% * * 12% 12% 23% 18% 30%
Household income
Under $35k 21% 10% 9% 11% 9% 9% 19% 14% 28%
$35-54.9k 20% 9% 9% 9% 10% 11% 19% 15% 23%
$55-84.9k 17% 10% 10% 9% 13% 11% 18% 17% 22%
$85k+ 15% 12% 13% 9% 17% 11% 18% 15% 20%
Children
With children 23% 9% 11% 12% 11% 12% 24% 15% 30%
Without children 16% 11% 9% 8% 12% 9% 15% 15% 20%
* Sample size too small.

** Hispanics can be of any race.
Source: American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup

Dr. Alvin Poussaint

Clinical professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and director of the media center at the Judge Baker Children's Center, Boston

“I think the acute pain, anxiety and fear have diminished from that very high level. But now there's a higher baseline of fear in our society. There is a nervousness about the future, which seem to be recurrent because of alerts from the government and media, which keep the fear alive.

What about consumers? There were signs of economic decline hurried along by Sept. 11, and since then there have been a lot of layoffs, the stock market drop-off and job uncertainty. People aren't spending the way they did before, especially on luxuries. However, there does seem to be some increase in people putting their money into more safe things, things that are about home and family. One thing Americans seem to be spending more money on is movies. That may be an indication of the need for entertainment, to get away from some of the tension in society. It could also mean that since going to movies is a social activity, it may indicate a desire for connection with others.

I think changes [in American attitudes and behavior] will continue to evolve depending on world events and the economy. People have been troubled by the Middle East situation. The suicide bombings there make us feel even more vulnerable, especially now that pundits have been saying there is a good chance that suicide bombings will come to the U.S. Polls show that most Americans expect another terrorist attack. This uncertainty contributes to their sense of uneasiness. Even a year later, people do not feel safe.�

Rev. Benjamin Fiore

Chair of the religious studies department and head priest, Canisius College, Canisius, N.Y.

“It appears that students are choosing colleges closer to home and are looking to stay on campus rather than commute. Some of that might be the result of a search for community and security. The decision to live on campus was already a trend, but it has taken off dramatically this year.

In the context of churches, there is a lively interest in exploring ecumenical issues, interethnic matters and peace issues among liberal Christians. This contrasts with a stronger assertion of identity and values among conservative church bodies. The events of 9/11 have pushed both sides in their chosen directions and, as a consequence, further apart from each other.�

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