U.S. Retail Spending Growth Slows Down: Americans Possibly Have Enough Stuff

While our economy is supposedly expanding and consumers have more money in our pockets thanks to lower gas prices, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that that we’re not spending that money in retail stores, online or in real life. If we’re not out hitting the malls, where’s all that money going?

The country’s economy is so massive that tiny shifts make a huge difference. Retail and food spending in December of 2015 added up to $448.1 billion, or the equivalent of just under 300 Powerball jackpots. While December sales are up slightly (2.2%) from December 2014, Americans spent slightly less than in November of 2015. In news that will not surprise any readers of this site, “nonstore retail,” which includes e-commerce, had the largest increase at 7.1%.

Other surveys have showed that Americans aren’t spending all of the money we’re saving due to lower fuel prices: credit card data from Chase showed that we’re spending more on restaurant meals and on services, not necessarily on stuff.

In general, our spending (adjusted for inflation) has been increasing every year since the recession officially ended in 2009. The small expansion in 2015 signals that the economy is doing well, but that growth has slowed down.

ADVANCE MONTHLY SALES FOR RETAIL AND FOOD SERVICES [Census Bureau]
Retail Sales in U.S. Decrease to End Weakest Year Since 2009 [Bloomberg News] (Warning: auto-play video)