OMG! Teen spending is, like, down!

Given everything that’s rattling our nerves these days — from our familiar economic woes to Swine Flu to low-flying 747s over lower Manhattan — you might not have expected this: consumer confidence actually rose in April to its highest point since the halcyon days of last November.

But there’s one group of consumers that isn’t feeling quite so confident these days: teenagers. A new report from investment bank Piper Jaffray reports that — OMG! — teen spending on clothing is down 14 percent from a year ago. Analyst Jeff Klinefelter noted that “teens and their parents are still buying new clothes, footwear and accessories, but” — he went on to note, with what we imagine must have been horror — they “are more selective and increasingly price conscious.”

Piper Jaffrey isn’t the only one to notice the new mood. A New York Times Style piece notes that teens are shunning once-ubercool Abercrombie & Fitch in favor of stores like Macy’s and Old Navy that — gasp! — charge less. All this, the Times says, “is having a profound effect on an already unraveling mall culture, where deep discounters and stores known for heavy promotions are suddenly the popular destinations and aspirational brands are struggling to fit in.”

Is this really — as at at least one report has it — a “troubling trend?” For Abercrombie, sure. But for the economy overall? Only in the short term.

Sure, teens help to fill the coffers of retailers. But too many teenagers are spending money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need, and racking up debt even before they get to college. If the current recession helps them to learn more sensible spending strategies, and they stick with them when things turn around, that will be better for them in the long term — and better for the economy as a whole.

–David Futrelle

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