CNBC

Consumer confidence hit a 10-year low in November as inflation climbed to the highest levels since the early 1990s, complicating efforts from policymakers to sell the case that the current surge of price increases is temporary.

The plunge in sentiment happened as workers quitting their jobs hit a fresh record in a labor market that has nearly three million more positions available than there are people looking or jobs.

In a sign of confidence in the labor market, 4.43 million people quit, part of what some have called “The Great Resignation,” the Labor Department reported Friday. That number topped August’s 4.27 million and bought the quits rate as a percentage of the labor force to 3%, also a record.

At the same time, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index tumbled to 66.8 for November, according to a preliminary reading Friday. That was the lowest since November 2011 and well below the Dow Jones estimate of 72.5. October’s reading was 71.7, meaning that the November level represented a 6.8% drop.

The survey showed consumers expecting still-higher rates of inflation, with the 12-month forecast nudging up to 4.9%.

“Consumer sentiment fell in early November to its lowest level in a decade due to an escalating inflation rate and the growing belief among consumers that no effective policies have yet been developed to reduce the damage from surging inflation,” said Richard Curtin, the survey’s chief economist.

The survey showed 1 in 4 consumers reducing their living standards due to price increases, while half of all families anticipated lower real income in the year ahead when adjusted for inflation.

Seemingly robust increases in average hourly earnings, which rose 4.9% in October from a year ago, still have not kept pace with inflation, bringing real wages down by 1.2% from the same period in 2020.

“Rising prices for homes, vehicles, and durables were reported more frequently than any other time in more than half a century,” Curtin added.

The gauge also indicated a low level of belief that policymakers are acting appropriately to handle inflation, which ran at a 6.2% rate for October, according to the consumer price index released Wednesday.