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Food Prices a Hardship for 64% of Low-Income Americans

Food Prices a Hardship for 64% of Low-Income Americans

One in five of those making less than $30,000 a year call the situation “severe”

by Dennis Jacobe

PRINCETON, NJ -- Forty-six percent of Americans report that recent food price increases are causing them financial hardship -- but the burden is being disproportionately felt by those earning less than $30,000 a year. According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted April 18-20, 64% of these low-income Americans report financial hardship from increasing food prices, compared to 50% of those making between $30,000 and $74,999, and standing in sharp contrast to the 28% of those making $75,000 or more.

Food Price Increases Causing Severe Hardship

During recent weeks, there has been increasing discussion of surging food prices and, in some cases, food riots taking place in various countries around the world. Often, the impression is left that increasing food prices are a severe problem for only the poorest of the poor and simply a nuisance or just another burden to bear for the average American consumer.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll debunks that idea. As part of the survey, consumers who said food price increases were causing them financial hardship were asked, "Is that a severe hardship that affects your ability to maintain your current standard of living, or is it a moderate hardship that affects you somewhat but does not jeopardize your current standard of living?" One in 10 Americans stated that food prices were causing them severe hardship that affected their ability to maintain their current standard of living.

However, once again, lower-income Americans are disproportionately affected. Nineteen percent of those earning less than $30,000 a year say food prices are causing them severe, standard-of-living-changing hardship, compared to 10% of those making $30,000 to $74,999, and only 3% of those making $75,000 or more.


Recent events tend to reflect an amazingly stark difference in perspective between those on Wall Street and the average American on Main Street. Less than two months ago, everyone on Wall Street as well as almost everyone knowledgeable about the financial system were stunned by the "run on Bear Stearns" and the aggressive actions the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury took to bail out the nation's fifth-largest investment bank. While much of this was largely transparent to the average American on Main Street, investors were generally cheered as they noted that the Fed will do what is necessary to maintain financial stability.

On the other hand, surging food prices have left most average Americans stunned. Combined with record energy prices, these relatively recent trends are severely damaging the ability of many lower- and middle-income Americans to maintain their standard of living. To this point, however, there has been no "emergency" public policy response -- perhaps because these price increases have not threatened the lifestyles of most upper-income Americans. While food and gas at the pump take a major portion of the disposable incomes of lower- and middle-income Americans, they account for a much more modest proportion of the disposable incomes of upper-income households.

Gallup's data suggest that the severe consequences of recent food price increases for many Americans may not be fully recognized. At this point, it seems most Americans are willing to continue to accept the idea that nothing can be done about the international and speculative global forces pushing food and fuel prices ever higher. However, as the nation learned in the 1970s, this degree of financial duress can lead to all kinds of misguided economic policies if left to fester for too long.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,016 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 18-20, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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