(Bloomberg News) Consumer confidence in the U.S. economic outlook slumped in October to the lowest level since the recession, highlighting the challenges facing the biggest part of the economy.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index's monthly expectations gauge dropped to minus 45, the worst reading since February 2009. The weekly measure of current conditions was minus 48.4 for the period ended Oct. 16, up from minus 50.8 the prior week that was close to a record low.

A volatile stock market, little hiring and a lack of wage gains are souring Americans' moods, raising the risk that the consumer spending that accounts for 70 percent of the economy will slump. Policy makers from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to President Barack Obama are taking steps to spur growth in the world's largest economy.

The report "is indicative of the sour mood of the American public," said Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg LP in New York. They now "expect economic conditions to deteriorate regardless of the recent increase in economic activity."

A separate report today showed little improvement in the labor market. First-time claims for jobless insurance dropped by 6,000 to 403,000 in the week ended Oct. 15, according to Labor Department figures released in Washington. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a decline to 400,000.

Stocks declined on concern that Germany may postpone a European debt-crisis summit. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.2 percent to 1,207.88 at 9:38 a.m. in New York.

The weekly comfort index showed gains in all three of its components. The measure of Americans' views of the current state of the economy rose to minus 85.8 last week from minus 87.1 in the prior period. The gauge of personal finances climbed to minus 7.7 from minus 11.5. The buying climate index moved up to minus 51.5 from minus 53.7.

The improvements are only "a tepid advance from the brink," Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates LLC in New York, which compiles the index for Bloomberg, said in a statement. "Any way you slice it, consumer sentiment is in its longest, deepest slump in at least a quarter century."

The Bloomberg comfort index, which began in December 1985, has averaged minus 46.1 this year compared with minus 45.7 for all of 2010 and minus 47.9 in 2009, the year the recession ended, the report showed.

Consumers' outlook on the economy echoes the results of the Fed's Beige Book survey released yesterday.