PRINCETON, NJ -- As the economic slump continues, Americans' top reported personal financial concerns are perhaps among the most basic -- not having enough money to make ends meet. When asked to name the most important financial problem facing their families, 16% of Americans say "a lack of money" or "low wages," and 15% say it is too much debt.
Each quarter, Gallup asks Americans to name -- without prompting -- "the most important financial problem facing your family today." The latest update is from a Feb. 9-12 poll.
Since October, when Gallup last asked this question, there have been significant increases in the percentage mentioning both a lack of money (up from 11% to 16%) and too much debt (up from 9% to 15%).
These basic economic concerns have crowded out larger systemic worries such as energy and healthcare costs. In July and October 2008, more Americans mentioned high energy costs and gas prices than any other financial problem. That included a substantial 29% in July, the highest percentage Gallup has ever recorded for any financial issue in the four-year history of this question. Now, with gas prices averaging below $2 per gallon nationally, just 3% mention energy.
Notably, even as Barack Obama has announced plans to reform the healthcare system, healthcare is less of a concern today than in the recent past. A year ago, 14% mentioned healthcare, which placed it at the top of the list along with too much debt. As recently as October 2007, 19% of Americans said healthcare costs were the most pressing financial concern for their family, making it at that time the top overall concern by a significant margin.
In the February 2009 poll, 6% mention the stock market or investments as their top financial concern, which is the highest for that response since the question was first asked in 2005. The stock market has sunk to even greater depths since the poll was conducted last month, and it would not be surprising to see growing concern about this financial matter in future polling.
As the economy continues to limp along, Americans are not having to look any further than their pocketbooks or credit card statements to pinpoint the most common sources of their financial pain. Insufficient income and excess debt are Americans' top personal financial concerns by a significant margin over any other issue, and have grown as concerns in the last several months. Given the public's focus on these very basic economic matters, Gallup's finding of significantly lower consumer spending in recent months is understandable.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,022 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-12, 2009. 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.