Are Consumers Really More Confident? Or Are They Just Praying Out Loud?

Last Updated May 26, 2009 3:12 PM EDT

Consumer confidence rose to the highest level since September, jumping 28 points from April to May to land at 54.9.

What did September, 2008 look like? That's when the Federal government let Lehman Brothers fail but decided that AIG was too big to fail. The stock market took a nosedive. Our confidence plunged as we lost faith in our government to hold our financial lives together, and in our own ability to provide for our families. Consumer confidence hit a low of 25 in February 2009.

Today's news that consumer confidence is up makes me wonder whether we're really all that much more confident, or if today's bad news just doesn't seem as dire as last September's news, or if we've just taken to praying out loud.

In my mind, confidence comes from success, not failure. As the economy takes positive steps forward, our confidence should build and grow. But there hasn't been a lot of good news lately. The housing market, which is crucial to finding a floor to this recession, remains mired in bad news.

Today's announcement that home prices are still plunging (down a record 32 percent from the high point three years ago, and down each month for the past 32 months), is hardly enough to get one feeling like we're on the right road back. (Watch for more housing announcements this week.) Loan modifications haven't slowed the increasing number of foreclosures. Likewise, gas prices are back over $60 per barrel. North Korea announced a successful nuclear blast, and more people are unemployed than in decades. Detroit has some very tough times ahead, as hundreds of dealers across the country lose their livelihoods and community connections. Some economists are projecting that the official unemployment number will peak at around 11.4 percent, instead of around 10 percent.

Prayers come from the heart, not the head. A prayer for better days can sound a lot like a hopeful vision of the future. Maybe that's what pollsters are hearing.

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    Ilyce R. Glink is an award-winning, nationally-syndicated columnist, best-selling book author and founder of Best Money Moves, an employee benefit program that helps reduce financial stress. She also owns ThinkGlink.com, where readers can find real estate and personal finance resources.