A startling fall in consumer confidence in July has the measure approaching levels not seen since some of the darkest moments of the recession. Gallup's sentiment reading has been declining steadily since its April high, but shows a steep drop this month. This isn't a good sign, as less confident consumers mean less spending to boost the recovery and spur hiring.

Here's the chart, from Gallup:

gallup confidence 2010-07.gif

As you can see, July marks the first month since March 2009 when the index has fallen below 34. The downward trend is also pretty clear over the past four months.

Americans' economic outlook appears to be driving the negative sentiment, as current conditions aren't perceived as much worse than they have been throughout the year:

gallup confidence 2010-07 ct2.gif

This chart is sort of incredible. Americans have a worse economic outlook now than they did throughout most of 2009, when unemployment was rising at a worrying pace. Presumably high prolonged unemployment is playing a major part in their worries. Of course, it could end up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, where economic fears prevent the job market from strengthening if those worries hold consumers back from spending as much.

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