Study: Money problems increase for middle class

LOS ANGELES — Financial woes are only worsening for middle-income Americans, according to an index calculated by Consumer Reports.

Job losses and high prices have especially plagued households earning between $50,000 and $99,000 a year, with their money problems jumping 12.4 percent last month. High-income families said they felt a 2.4 percent increase in money-related hurdles.

While the "Trouble Tracker" index declined in the Northeast and South, financial problems increased 8.4 percent in the North Central region and a large 27.9 percent in the West. Americans said that the inability to afford medications or cover medical bills was their top concern. The employment market isn't helping. Consumer Reports found that the economy has lost more jobs than it's created the past two months.

On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund warned of an "alarmingly high" risk of a serious global slowdown due to fiscal issues in the U.S. and Europe, downgrading its forecast for economic growth.

"Our numbers suggest the core of the problem remains a weak employment picture, which results in falling consumer confidence levels," said Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center, in a statement. "Without a substantial improvement in the jobs outlook, it is unlikely that consumers will have the inclination to spend."

But for now, that's not the case. Retail spending was up in September. Small-business owners said for the first time in a year-and-a-half that they're expecting better business conditions in the next six months.

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