PhotoConsumer unease about the economy appears to be growing. In fact, the confidence level is lower than it was a year ago.

The Conference Board says its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 58.6 in January from 66.7 in December , which had declined in December -- erasing all the gains made through 2012.

The Expectations Index declined to 59.5 from 68.1, while the Present Situation Index dropped to 57.3 from 64.6 last month.

Growing discomfort

“Consumers are more pessimistic about the economic outlook and, in particular, their financial situation, “ said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “The increase in the payroll tax has undoubtedly dampened consumers’ spirits and it may take a while for confidence to rebound and consumers to recover from their initial paycheck shock.”

Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions deteriorated in January. Those claiming business conditions are “good” fell to 16.7 percent from 17.2 percent, while those stating business conditions are “bad” increased to 27.4 percent from 26.3 percent.

Consumers’ assessment of the labor market has also grown more negative. Those saying jobs are “plentiful” declined to 8.6 percent from 10.8 percent, while those who believe jobs are “hard to get” increased to 37.7 percent from 36.1 percent.

Short-term worries

Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook continued to deteriorate in January. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months declined to 15.4 percent from 18.1 percent. However, those expecting business conditions to worsen declined slightly to 20.6 percent from 21.1 percent.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was more pessimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead declined to 14.3 percent from 17.9 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs remained virtually unchanged at 27.0 percent.

The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to decline rose to 22.9 percent from 19.1 percent, while those anticipating an increase fell to 13.6 percent from 15.6 percent.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was January 17.

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