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In U.S., Record Worry About Maintaining Standard of Living

by Dennis Jacobe, Chief Economist

Fifty-five percent fear they won’t be able to continue their current lifestyles

PRINCETON, NJ -- The percentage of Americans worried that they will not be able to maintain their standard of living increased by 14 points compared to last year, and now stands at 55% -- exceeding the previous high of 49% reached two years ago, and the highest level since Gallup began asking this question in 2001.

Many See Their Standard of Living Threatened

Presidential candidates and the popular press have made much of the current economic downturn/recession, and the current data make it clear that a fundamental economic worry bothering the majority of Americans is the threat that they will not be able to maintain their current standard of living. Surging food and gas prices have combined with a slowing economy and a lack of income growth to make more than half (55%) of all Americans fear that they may end up with a lower standard of living than they've enjoyed in the past.

While such fears permeate much of U.S. society, they are most pronounced among lower-income Americans. Among those earning less than $30,000 a year, 72% say they are very or moderately worried that they will not be able to maintain the standard of living they enjoy, compared to 58% of those making $30,000 to $74,999, and 41% of those making $75,000 or more.

Many Worry About Making Their Monthly Payments

One reason so many Americans feel their current standard of living is threatened may have to do with their worries about not having enough money to pay their normal monthly bills. This is a concern felt by 44% of those interviewed in the current poll, a new high. About a third of Americans had such fears when Gallup began asking this question in April 2001; the previous high was 38% in April 2006.

Not surprisingly, consumers' worries that they won't be able to make their normal monthly payments show a distribution by income similar to that of their fears about maintaining their standard of living. Seven in 10 of those earning less than $30,000 a year say they are worried that they will not have enough money to make their normal monthly payments, compared to 42% of those making $30,000 to $74,999, and 26% of those making $75,000 or more.


For several years, economists have debated whether globalization has had a significant depressing effect on average American income levels. What Americans are experiencing now with food and energy prices may be another aspect of globalization. As incomes have increased in many nations around the world, the demand for the essentials of everyday life has increased. Although speculators and other international distortions may have accelerated and intensified the potential impact of this aspect of globalization, one result for many Americans may be a reduction in their ability to maintain their current standard of living.

Gallup's data suggest that many Americans are now facing a significant decline in their living standards -- they simply are having difficulty paying their current monthly bills given the current squeeze on their disposable incomes. This has been, and will continue to be, a significant issue in the current presidential campaign, as the remaining candidates battle to see who can put forth the most compelling ideas about how this new economic reality might be addressed.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,021 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 6-9, 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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