What's really stopping the recovery: A crisis in consumer confidence

More than two years after the recession’s official end, people are driving their cars a year longer, holding back on jewelry and furniture, and swapping brand names for cheaper store brands at the supermarket.

More ominously, the once sturdy optimism of Americans appears to have crumbled, according to one key measure. Breaking from precedent, Americans no longer believe they will make more money next year than this year, according to the University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers. These expectations used to rebound after recessions; this time they didn’t…

In the United States between 2000 and 2008, outstanding consumer credit and home mortgage debt rose rapidly, from 65 percent of gross domestic product to more than 90 percent.

That ratio has since fallen to 85 percent, but it could take many years for households to reduce what they owe and feel free to spend again, economists said.