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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - There may be small glimmers of hope in the economy but most Americans are not confident about their financial future and many think they are already poor, according to a new survey.
More than 70 percent of Americans questioned in a Zogby International poll said they could imagine becoming poor or already think they are.
"What they're saying is that they're one, two or three paychecks away from poverty," said John Zogby, the CEO of polling company. "This has a huge implication."
Consumer worry about sliding into poverty has already dampened early holiday sales, with people spending less so far this year and often hunting for bargains, experts say.
While Black Friday and Saturday sales increased 0.9 percent over 2008, totaling $16.77 billion dollars according to ShopperTrak, shoppers spent less on average last Friday than in 2008, according to the National Retail Foundation.
The gap between current difficulties and people's expectations for the future might be due to the economic crisis not being severe enough to fundamentally alter consumer behavior.
"There is a contradiction playing out in front of us between hopefulness and hopelessness," said Jenny Darroch, a professor at Claremont's Graduate School of Management in California.
A third of people questioned in the poll said they hoped to be better off a year from now, while 34.5 percent said they would be about the same. But in five years from now more than half said they'd be better off, the poll shows.
Darroch said the numbers show there is a "hope that the crisis will come to an end soon."
But it also indicates that the recession has not fundamentally dented the way consumers will behave in the future.
"People are being told that the crisis is coming to an end," said Darroch, adding that when it does people will probably revert to the same patterns of consumption.
Yet for Darroch not everything will be the same.
"In the future people may feel like they have more money, but they may be very cautious about how they spend it."