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Declining Consumer Confidence Echoes Jittery Stock Market

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Americans may have thought they had escaped the clutches of the five-year economic downturn, but the latest consumer confidence data says "not so fast" and mirrors this week's swoon in the stock market.

In fact, to paraphrase Al Pacino, "just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

Fresh data from the Bloomberg Consumer Confidence Index has the news, and it's not good for the economy, although it may have a silver lining for homeowners and home buyers.

The index shows U.S. consumer confidence at a two-month low, just as the data showed consumer sentiment on the economy at a four-year high in February.

Tepid employment numbers, along with slowing U.S. manufacturing data and high gasoline prices, are feeding the beast this month, as Bloomberg notes consumers' view April and May to be a "bad time to buy needed items."

Overall, U.S. gross domestic product has fallen to 2.2%, based on the latest reading from the federal government.

Souring attitudes on the economy are particularly prevalent among middle-class consumers, widely viewed as the demographic group squeezed hardest by the Great Recession -- and its harsh aftermath.

"The reversal of gains in confidence has been particularly pronounced in middle-income groups that are likely caught between sluggish wage increases and rising inflation that has eroded their real purchasing power," notes Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg LP in New York City. The deterioration "does not bode well for household consumption."

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