Americans worried about their incomes as they struggled to find work in September, holding consumer confidence at depressed levels and pointing to weak spending in the months ahead.
The Conference Board said on Tuesday its index of consumer attitudes was little changed at 45.4 this month from 45.2 in August, and below economists' expectations for a rise to 46.0.
Other reports on regional manufacturing and services also pointed to weak economic conditions remaining firmly in place this month, although house prices stabilized in July.
The steep stock market sell-off, political bickering in Washington over budget policy and a worsening sovereign debt crisis in Europe have eroded confidence, viewed as a key gauge of consumer health.
These events are threatening to push the U.S. economy back into recession, although most economists say an outright contraction in output will be avoided.
"Consumers expressed greater concern about their expected earnings, a sign that does not bode well for spending,'' said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.
In a sign that people were struggling to find employment, the jobs-hard-to-get index rose to 50.0, the highest level since May 1983, from 48.5 the previous month.
"The problem is that sentiment is not improving and people seem to have no reason to believe that it will improve. That seems to be taking a toll on consumer spending which is moving sideways, not growing,'' said Pierre Ellis, a senior economist at Decision Economics in New York.