consumer sentiment feb

Lancaster County consumers turned much less confident in February, a new survey found, with respondents voicing pessimism about the impact of the Biden administration on their personal finances and the economy.

The monthly Consumer Sentiment Index, based on a local survey taken the first seven days of the month, fell nearly 12 points to 78.5 – the sharpest month-to-month decline since the survey’s inception in April and the lowest level since August.

Local economist Naomi Young, director of the Center for Regional Analysis, said the downturn “came as a surprise given prospects of further stimulus payments and fewer new unemployment claims,” and because countians were strongly bullish in January.

“February’s results send a precautionary signal that a steady pace to the county’s economic recovery could be tenuous,” Young said in announcing the latest results.

Nationwide, consumer confidence slid nearly 3 points to 76.2, landing a bit below the county level, as usual.

Consumer confidence is important to track because it’s among the few forward-looking economic indicators, signaling how willing consumers will be to spend in the future. That’s significant because consumer spending is the biggest generator of economic activity.

The local survey is taken by the center, part of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, with the help of LNP | LancasterOnline. The national mark comes from a survey done by the University of Michigan.

In Lancaster County, based on 738 respondents, the survey showed households reporting weaker current conditions and bleaker expectations, Young said.

Where January found countians equally split on the outlook for the local economy, their views turned darker in February. Some 31% anticipated unfavorable times over the next 12 months; only 18% were optimistic.

Countians had grimmer expectations of the national economy too. Some 46% foresaw unfavorable conditions over the next 12 months. In January, fewer than 30% did.

Many respondents said their negative view stemmed from their belief that the Biden administration will damage the economy.

That perspective didn’t come out of nowhere. Lancaster County has leaned Republican for decades. And it did again in the November presidential election, when incumbent Donald Trump got 56.9% of the votes cast in the county, compared to Biden’s 41.2%. 

“I see many of the ideas proposed by this new administration as having very negative repercussions for our economy as a whole,” said one respondent. (Survey respondents are not asked to provide their names.)

A second respondent opined, “High taxes and giveaways at the federal level will decimate the economy for years!”

Not everyone saw the Biden administration’s arrival as a bad harbinger, though.

“The Biden administration has brought on smart, competent people who can help direct the COVID response, stimulate the economy for everyday folks as well as business and take steps to make the future in terms of climate change better for our children,” another respondent said.

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