While trying to figure out whether the economy is in recovery, analysts are also sorting through the short-term effects of Sept. 11 and the recent economic downturn of Americans' fiscal habits.
One possible result: greater responsibility.
Several independent surveys show Americans are saving more, paying off debt more quickly, and spending less on luxury items. One, sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America and Bank of America, found that 33 percent of Americans said they have more interest in building personal savings since Sept. 11 (only 9 percent indicated less interest). Those surveyed also expressed more interest in paying down debt - and far less in buying lottery tickets or luxury items.
Workers saving for retirement are also investing more, according to a recent survey by Fidelity Investments.
As a result of increased contribution limits now in place, more than 70 percent of Americans who save in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) plan to increase their contributions, the survey found. Investors younger than 50 can now save up to $3,000 a year (compared with the old limit of $2,000) and those age 50 and older can save up to $3,500.
Not all the news is encouraging. Nearly half of Americans who "carry over" credit-card balances make just the minimum payment, according to the Cambridge Consumer Credit Index. But the survey also found that 25 percent of Americans took on new debt last month, with 75 percent paying down debt - substantially better than in January.