The sound of popping champagne corks in celebration of this anniversary was deafening in its silence. At best, it was as boisterous as the sound of one hand clapping.
We may not technically be living in recessionary times, but we certainly live in times in which recessionary mindsets and recessionary lifestyles continue to be widespread. In June 2011, our Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer Survey -- a monthly survey of more than 1,000 respondents with household income of $100,000 or more (the top 20% of U.S. households based on household income) -- found that only about one in four considered the recession to be over for themselves, and fewer than one in ten consider the recession over for the nation as a whole.
Most Affluents expect a recovery, not in 2011 or even in 2012, but rather in 2013 or beyond. Optimism about the U.S. economy has become more volatile, bouncing up and down significantly over the past six months, reflecting a fundamental skittishness about the future. The overall trend has been down, however, from 57% optimistic about the economy in December 2010 (after the bi-partisan budget agreement), tumbling since to 41% in June 2011.
But the news isn't all bad. Since the formal end of the recession two years ago, the Dow has risen over 40%, from 8,504 to over 12,200 as June 2011 ended. And there is even a suggestion that the Affluents are looking to ratchet up their spending. When given a hypothetical scenario of the economy's continuing to improve, 34% of Affluents reported they would likely spend more, compared to only 5% who would cut back.
There's considerable interest in tackling postponed purchases, and definite signs of what others have called "frugal fatigue." When our survey asked why their spending might increase, representative answers included "I might be a little more relaxed about non-essential purchases" and "I probably would buy products without thinking and calculating too much."
The recovery may be sputtering a bit, and it is clearly subdued in intensity. And it is, as recoveries usually are, unevenly concentrated, even among the Affluents. But its signs are clear. Two years after economists told us that the recession ended, today's consumer mindset among Affluents is one of moving forward through uncertainty, because of their widespread sense that waiting for certainty may take a very long time.
Despite doubts that range from the macro (the national economy) to the micro (personal financials), from the short-term to the long-term, Affluent consumers are concluding that life (and spending) "must go on."