Optimism Among Wealthy Americans Is Down, Economy Worries Are Up

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After two consecutive months of improvement, optimism among America’s wealthiest has dipped due to continued concerns about the economy and the job market.

Forty-five percent of those who live in households making $100,000 or more a year are optimistic about the economy, down 5 percentage points from March. And while the current optimism level is still higher than during the last half of 2011, a significant number of wealthy Americans think the United States is heading in the wrong direction economically – and won’t recover for another two years.

Despite the National Bureau of Economic Research indicating that the recession officially ended in June 2009, 39 percent think the downturn won’t end until 2014 or later (up 6 percentage points from March). Another 15 percent say the recession won’t end — ever.

The results come from the April 2012 Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer, first revealed to CNBC. The Barometer studies the lifestyles, spending patterns and media habits of today’s affluent Americans.

Fifty percent say the economy is still their biggest concern (up 6 percentage points from March). Specifically, 69 percent of affluents (up 3 percentage points from March) still say that a decrease in the unemployment rate is the most important change that would make them more optimistic about the economy. More than 40 percent indicate stability on Wall Street would also contribute to more optimism (up 11 percentage points from March).

Among all affluents, optimism about their own prospects has also dropped. Forty-nine percent believe they personally will be better off 12 months from now, down four percentage points from March.

The more you make, however, the more optimistic you are. Two-thirds of adults living in households with incomes of $250,000 or more think the future looks brighter — and that’s up 6 percentage points from the previous Barometer.

There are other differences between the two income groups: households making $100,000 or more still prefer gold as the best investment right now, while those in households of $250,000 or more like real estate more.

Affluents were also surveyed about their media device ownership and usage by Mendelsohn. The most popular digital gadgets were, unsurprisingly, TVs and cameras. Nearly two-thirds of wealthy Americans surveyed own a flat-panel color TV, and 63 percent own a digital camera. Fifty-six percent of all affluents own a digital music player and 55 percent of all affluents own a smartphone.

Media Devices Owned by Affluents

Percent who own
Flat-panel Color TV 65%
Digital Camera 63%
Digital Music Player 56%
Smartphone 55%
Video game system 40%
Source: Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer ÛÒ April 2012

Only 25 percent currently own a tablet. But 14 percent of non-tablet owners say they intend to purchase one within the next 12 months, the largest intent-to-purchase percentage of all devices.

The wealthy are passionate about their smartphones. Of those that own a smartphone, 94 percent use it daily — and it’s the gadget that most affluents say they cannot live without.

Media Device Usage by Affluents

Percent of owners who use daily
Smartphones 94%
Flat-panel Color TV 91%
3D TV 82%
Satellite Radio Receiver 70%
Internet Connectable TV 68%
Tablet 68%
Source: Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer – April 2012

Methodology: Conducted online April 19-30, 2012 with 1,029 adults 18+ with household income of $100K+ (weighted to reflect U.S. Census data)