37% of Americans say their personal finances have gotten worse, according to the latest PBS Newshour/Marist Poll.
37% of Americans say their personal finances have gotten worse this year, according to the latest PBS Newshour/Marist Poll. That’s an 8-point jump since February. Twice as many people now say their economic situation has worsened as say it has improved.
Most blame the worst inflation the United States has seen in four decades. Consumer prices across the board rose 8.2% in September from a year earlier, according to September 2022 government data. Price increases in some areas were even steeper.
Many people say they feel as though something is missing in the U.S. economy, finding they’re paying more and getting less.
Almost everyone of those surveyed says they’re cutting back and staying in
Susan Morrison, who lives in Thousand Oaks, Calif., says she knew something was wrong when she bought a new tub of cottage cheese. “I had an old one in the refrigerator,” Morrison recalls. “I went to put the new one in and it was like, ‘Wait a minute. This is two-thirds of the size. There’s a third missing.’ “
For Morrison, the curdling of confidence goes beyond cottage cheese. She and her husband are both retired. They’ve watched a falling stock market erode their savings, while prices at the supermarket have jumped more than 13% in the last 12 months.
“We’re seniors. It’s not like we’re eating huge meals,” Morrison says. “But we have noticed that our grocery bill over just the last two years, we’ve watched it go up and up and up.”
Nearly three out of four people surveyed say they’ve cut back on spending in the last six months in response to economic conditions. More than a quarter say they’d had to rely on savings in order to make ends meet.
Morrison used to volunteer weekly at a senior center in Simi Valley, but now goes only every other week to save on gasoline. She and her husband have also cut back on travel.
“We love to vacation in our motor home,” Morrison says. “But we have not gone anywhere in our motor home at all this year because of the cost of diesel.”
Both diesel and gasoline prices have dropped, since hitting record highs in June. But fuel remains significantly more expensive than it was a year ago. The average price of diesel is higher than $5 a gallon.
More than half the people surveyed say they’re eating out less now than they were six months ago. Four in 10 say they’re driving less or carpooling in order to save on gas.
“I mean, when you try to buy a steak, for Chrissakes,” says Craig Barnes, an energy broker in Plano, Texas. “It has a big impact, especially in my business. When I’m taking people out and stuff like that, we’re not going to steakhouses any more. We’re dialing it back big time.”
Jim Justice, who works as a pizza delivery driver in suburban Atlanta, suffered a drop in income earlier this summer when gas prices soared. Although gas prices have since fallen, the delivery business hasn’t fully recovered. Fewer people are ordering pizza some nights. And even when it’s busy, tips are down.
“People are struggling. It’s kind of tragic,” Justice says. “Even on Fridays and Saturdays, I’ve been making only 75% of what I was a year ago.”
As a result, Justice has scaled back spending on favorite hobbies.
“A lot of my friends are either having to cut down on activities that they enjoy, ” Justice says, or “pick up more hours, or figure out second jobs.”
Skipping doctor visits and other signs of economic distress
Just over a third of those surveyed say they canceled or scaled back vacations over the last six months, while 18% say they skipped a doctor’s visit or a purchase of prescription drugs.
In general, families making less than $50,000 a year were more likely to say they’d cut spending than those with higher incomes.
Missing a rent or mortgage payment can be a sign of more serious economic distress. Less than 10% of those surveyed said they’d skipped or delayed such a payment in the last six months.
But missed housing payments were more than twice as common among families making less than $25,000 a year.
“I had to be late on rent this month, and probably going to have to figure something out for this coming payment as well,” says Connor Slaten, who works at a KFC in Kansas City, Mo.
Slaten was recently promoted to shift manager, and his wages climbed to $14 an hour. Still, he says, that’s not keeping pace with the rising cost of living.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere in America where $14 an hour can adequately pay for a one-bedroom apartment and everything else that you need,” he says.
Some of those surveyed are pessimistic that economic fortunes will improve any time soon.
And some are banking on growing sense of empowerment among workers.
“There’s more people quitting jobs that aren’t treating them well,” says Justice, the pizza delivery driver. “That gives me a lot of hope. Because if enough people quit jobs that aren’t treating them well, they’ll have to start treating people better and have to start paying people what they’re worth.”
Justice hopes to start a new job — working with a wilderness therapy program — this fall.
By Gilbert Castro | ENC News