**FILE** This Nov. 22, 2008 file photo shows shoppers pushing their carts through the toy aisles at the Costco in Cranberry, Pa., Butler County. With holiday sales shaping up to be the lowest in years, possibly the worst since the industry began annual comparisons in 1969, retailers say they're taking consumers' demands for good deals seriously. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
NEW YORK – Consumer confidence hit an all-time low in December, dropping unexpectedly in the face of layoffs and deteriorating markets for housing, stocks and other investments.
The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index fell to 38 in December from a revised 44.7 in November. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected the index to rise incrementally to 45.
The separate Present Situation index, which measures how respondents feel about business conditions and employment prospects, fell to 29.4 in December from 42.3 in November. It is now close to levels last seen after the 1990 to 1991 recession.
The dismal job market appears to have outweighed declining gas prices in consumers' minds. Those saying jobs are "hard to get" rose to 42 percent in December from 37.1 percent in November, while those claiming jobs are "plentiful" decreased to 6.2 percent from 8.7 percent.
The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes decreased to 12.7 percent in December from 13.1 percent in November.
Those claiming business conditions are "bad" increased to 46.0 percent in December from 40.6 percent in November, while those saying business conditions are "good" declined to 7.7 percent from 10.1 percent.
The survey is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households. The cutoff date for December's preliminary results was Dec. 22.