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Pre-election, Americans report money problems are easing, survey says

By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times –

According to one gauge, Americans say their personal financial health is the best it’s been in years, even as the uncertainty of the presidential election looms and the expensive winter holiday season approaches.

The Trouble Tracker Index from Consumer Reports, which measures reports of household money woes, fell sharply to 38.7 in its November edition from 50.2 in last month’s tally — its lowest level since the gauge was first calculated in April 2009.

Any figure above 50 means that more consumers are struggling with troubles such as the inability to pay for medical bills, shrinking health care coverage and missed payments. The Consumer Reports data are based on 1,013 interviews with consumers.

A separate measure of consumer sentiment inched into positive territory, indicating more Americans feeling upbeat for the first time since August. An employment index reached a record high of 51.5, from 49.7 last month, exceeding the 50 mark — at which the same number of Americans start a job or lose one.

Respondents said they purchased fewer new cars during the past month and also spent less at retail outlets. But in the November report, they also indicated that they would shell out more money for used cars and retail items.

The economic environment is muddy going into Tuesday’s election. An index from the Institute for Supply Management showed growth in the service sector slowing in October as activity slipped along with new orders.

Nationwide, median annual incomes have tumbled

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