December 15, 2010

For Public, Tough Year Ends on a Down Note

Section 3: Affording the Necessities, Personal Debt

A majority of Americans (57%) say it is either very difficult (17%) or difficult (40%) to afford the things they want in life. Four-in-ten say it is either very easy (4%) or easy (36%). The percentage saying it is difficult to afford the things they want remains as high as it was in December 2008 and is on par with public sentiment in January 1992.

As was the case two years ago, about three-quarters of those with annual family incomes under $30,000 (76%) say it is difficult to afford the things they want. About six-in-ten (59%) of those with incomes between $30,000 and $74,999 say this, as do 47% of those with incomes between $75,000 and $99,999. Just 23% of those with incomes of $100,000 are more say it is difficult to afford the things they want.

Majorities of Americans say they and their family struggle to save money for retirement (64% say this is very difficult or difficult) and pay taxes (57%). About half say that health care (51%), gasoline (50%) and home heating and electricity (48%) costs are difficult for to afford. Fewer (29%) say it is difficult for them to afford food.

Compared to December 2008, more now say it is difficult to afford health care (+six points), heat and electricity (+six points) and taxes (+five points).

More also say it is difficult to afford gasoline than did so two years ago, when the price of gas was falling rapidly. Currently, 50% say gasoline is difficult to afford, up from 27% in December 2008.

Many Low-Income People Struggle to Pay for Necessities

As in 2008, there are wide differences among income groups in views of the affordability of goods and services. Most Americans, regardless of their family income, say it is difficult to save money for retirement. However, people with lower incomes are more likely to say they struggle to afford the necessities. And 44% of those with family incomes of less than $30,000 say it is difficult to afford food, far more than those with higher incomes.

Majorities of those with family incomes of less than $30,000 say it is difficult to afford gasoline (65%), health care (63%) and heat and electricity (62%). Even among those with somewhat higher family incomes – $30,000 to $74,999 – about half say it is difficult to afford these items. Less than a third of those with incomes of $75,000 or more say it is difficult to afford gasoline, health care or heat a
nd electricity.

Family Income and Personal Debt

About a quarter of Americans (27%) say they owe more than they can afford on credit cards and other installment loans (not including their mortgages).This is consistent with the level of debt reported in response to a similar question in October 2008 (25%) but has increased somewhat from earlier that year (22% in February and July 2008).

People with lower incomes are more likely to say they owe a lot more than they can afford on credit cards and installment loans. About one-in-five (19%) of those with incomes below $30,000 say this, compared with 6% of those with incomes of $75,000 or above.