Stress among consumers has risen across every Australian state and territory, new data suggests, with big purchasing expectations for the next 12 months trimmed as the gap between low and high incomes widens.
The “stress index” in a National Australia Bank consumer sentiment survey released on Thursday registered 57.8 points in the June quarter, up from 56.6 in the March quarter, driven by growing concern over government policy, ability to fund retirement and cost of living.
The gap between lower and higher income groups widened, with consumers earning less than $35,000 per annum rising 2.4 points to 63.1, but falling for those pocketing above $100,000 per annum, down 0.9 points to 53.6.
“Stress among consumers on lower income remains noticeably higher across all measures, particularly cost of living,” NAB found.
Consumer perceptions of living costs remains highest for groceries, while utilities rose sharply.
Respondents particularly noted price rises for rent, transport, travel and holidays, home improvements, medical expenses and eating out.
“Rent has no doubt been a contributing factor with on balance more WA consumers noting rent price increases than in any other state, except SA,” a spokesman said.
West Australians were also increasingly anxious overall, with the state’s stress index rating lifting 2.7 points to 55.6.
Despite the Australian economy being in a much better position than expected six months ago, only West Australians reported heightened concerns about the economy.
Unsurprisingly, concern about the economy was highest in Victoria at 63.3 points, where the economic recovery has been relatively slower due to multiple Covid-19 lockdowns.
The state ranked second for overall stress, up 0.1 points to 58, behind NSW/ACT, up 0.9 to 59.3.
NAB also found expectations for major purchases were a little more conservative, although home renovations were a surprising exception given product and tradesperson supply shortages, partly due to the success of the federal government’s HomeBuilder stimulus scheme.
The good news was stress over job security eased further to sit at its lowest level since the third quarter of 2019.