The Briefing Column
The journal Super Marketing for 10 September 1982 published extracts from Nielsen’s study of the effects of unemployment on consumer spending, which came to the following surprising conclusion:
In areas of high unemployment, spending dropped considerably behind the rate of price rises in 1981. The survey indicated that the gulf between the amount spent on groceries in affluent and less affluent areas widened during the period under review. It revealed that expenditure in non-assisted areas rose much more than in assisted areas, suggesting that increasing unemployment and falling incomes had a significant effect on consumption patterns . . . Consumers bought slightly more than in the previous year in non-assisted areas, while in the assisted areas they bought significantly less. A difference in the type of goods purchased in the two types of area is also revealed. Non-assisted consumers spent more on “luxury items” such as yogurt, fruit juices, grilled desserts, while assisted area consumers spent more than the previous year on corned beef, soups and sponge puddings. A similar discrepancy between levels of expenditure between the two was revealed for staple goods such as tea, flour, butter and margarine.
Perhaps a more useful survey would have been between the spending patterns of workers — both in and out of work — and their employers. The results of this would have made more interesting, and perhaps more apposite reading. The “slimming down” of industry has made enterprises more profitable and share prices have risen. We might have read that, while workers are buying two less tins of baked beans a week, their masters are now buying fresh asparagus instead of having to put up with the tinned variety they have endured during the last year. We might have learned that, while their employees, and the unemployed, had to argue whether or not they could afford a new (or secondhand) winter coat, the owners of industry had decided that the new mink was now possible and it was really time to get on — or around — that waiting list for a new Rolls-Royce. The snag is that, although this would have made more socially significant reading, no one would have paid Nielsen to conduct such a survey!