Teen spending falls to an 8-year low: Morning Brief

Myles Udland
Markets Reporter

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

America’s teens haven’t been this bearish since the Euro Crisis

Economic optimism has been fading in some corners of the U.S. economy.

And now we can add America's youth to this of those growing bearish.

In its latest survey of U.S. teenagers, analysts at Piper Jaffray found that 32% of teens think the economy is getting worse, an increase of 7 percentage points from the fall of 2018. Piper also found that teens this fall estimate they are on track to spend $2,371 per year, the lowest estimated annual spend for teenagers in the U.S. since the fall of 2011.

Back in the fall of 2011, the economy was still finding its footing after the crisis, credit ratings agencies had just downgraded the U.S. debt, and the eurozone seemed at risk of breaking up amid the darkest days of the Euro Crisis.

And in 2011, America's teens were millennials. Now, these same people are young adults.

Said another way, then, Generation Z has never been this cautious when it comes to their economic outlook.

Teen spending hasn't been this low in 8 years, a potentially worrying sign about economic confidence among the youngest American consumers. (Source: Piper Jaffray)

Now, Piper notes that several trends among what's popular with teens could lead to an overall low spend from the group. Accessories spending hit a record low for the survey and cosmetics spending is down 20% over last year to the lowest levels in 19 surveys (or more than nine years). Handbags also appear to be out, as spending on handbags hit an all-time low for the survey. The casualization of fashion continues to grow, with 75% of female respondents and 87% of male respondents preferring an athletic brand of footwear, new highs for the survey.

The rise of the "VSCO girl" — which emphasizes a low-maintenance, health-conscious aesthetic — might also be putting pressure on traditional areas of teen spending. Piper says the term "has been used most commonly to describe a girl who wears scrunches, Birkenstocks/Crocs, an oversized tee, and carries a HydroFlask with a metal straw while constantly re-applying lip-gloss and spritzing body mists."

Teens today are not your traditional "Mean Girls"-inspired, millennial, Valley Girl mall rat. This year's spate of retail bankruptcies is a vivid example of how teen trends have moved against retailers.

But the caution we're seeing expressed by teens about the economy is another example of recent economic surveys revealing a more measured view of the U.S. economy's future. Last week, softening survey data indicated that corporate America is as bearish as its been in at least three years (in the manufacturing sector, things haven't been this dull since 2009).

Job growth has also moderated. And while arguing that economic data has been recessionary remains a stretch, it's clear that optimism has faded about what the future path of growth holds.

Even among America's youth.

By Myles Udland, reporter and co-anchor of The Final Round. Follow him @MylesUdland

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