Consumers Remain ‘Willing to Spend’ Even as Growth Slows


Shoppers are still willing to buy even as smaller job and wage gains and high interest rates are slowing the growth of consumer spending, National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said this week.

“U.S. economic growth for the remainder of this year will depend on several factors but particularly the pace of job growth, inflation and what actions will be taken by the Federal Reserve,” Kleinhenz said in a news release. “The good news is that the economy is growing, inflation is moderating and overall fundamentals look fine as increased consumer spending supports underlying momentum.”

June Consumer Economic Review

Kleinhenz’s comments came in the June issue of NRF’s Monthly Economic Review, which said gross domestic product is still expected to grow about 2.3% over 2023 but that employment is now expected to grow by an average 180,000 jobs a month, which is about 50,000 higher than expected this spring. Inflation as measured by the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index should drop to about 2.2% by the end of the year, close to the Federal Reserve’s target of 2%, according to the NRF.

“The biggest change in the economic outlook since our initial projections is that immigration has been much stronger,” Kleinhenz said, noting that the Congressional Budget Office now estimates that net immigration last year was 3.3 million, more than triple the previous estimate of 1 million. “New immigrants have increased the supply of workers, raising production capacity, closing some shortages in the labor market and allowing the economy to generate jobs without overheating and accelerating inflation.”

Inflation Expected to Decline

The availability of more workers, particularly in low-wage jobs, can help limit wage-driven inflation and increased immigration, which “explains some of the surprising strength in consumer spending since 2022,” Kleinhenz said in the release.

Inflation was higher than expected in the first few months of the year, but much of it was driven by prices for services and the trend is expected to be short-lived, Kleinhenz said. Overall year-over-year inflation stood at 2.7% in March, according to the PCE index. But the figure was driven by service-sector prices, which were up 4% while prices for goods were unchanged from a year earlier and have been gradually declining.

Kleinhenz had expected the Fed to begin to lower interest rates in July. But with inflation still not down as much as the Fed would like, a cut isn’t likely to happen until later in the year.

While the growth rate of consumer spending has begun to ease, owing to slower job and wage gains, higher interest and tighter credit, “consumers clearly remain willing to spend,” Kleinhenz said in the release. Core retail sales as defined by NRF – based on Census Bureau data but excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants – were up 3.8% unadjusted year-over-year for the first four months of the year. This is in line with NRF’s forecast for 2024 retail sales to grow between 2.5% and 3.5% over 2023.