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Americans' Access to Basic Necessities at Recession Level

Americans' Access to Basic Necessities at Recession Level

by Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fewer Americans had access to basic life necessities in September. The nation's Basic Access Index score fell to 81.4 last month -- on par with the 81.5 measured in February and March 2009 amid the recession.

Basic Access Index Score by Month

Americans' access to basic necessities has never fully recovered after declining amid the 2008 to 2009 financial crisis and has declined further since February of this year.

Still, the current 81.4 Basic Access Index score means that the majority of Americans do have access to basic life necessities.

These findings are based on more than 29,000 interviews conducted each month from January 2008 through September 2011 with American adults as a part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The Basic Access Index includes 13 questions that measure Americans' access to basic necessities, ranging from food and shelter to clean water and healthcare.

More Americans Struggling With Access to Healthcare, Food, and Shelter

Americans' access to healthcare, food, and shelter worsened the most in September compared with when the Basic Access Index was at its high point in September 2008. Fewer Americans now have a personal doctor and health insurance. And more Americans are having trouble paying for food and shelter.

Basic Access Index items in Sept. 2008 and Sept. 2011

The majority of Americans, however, still have access to all 13 basic necessities the index measures.

Bottom Line

While the recession officially ended more than two years ago, the effects on Americans continue to linger. Unemployment remains high and more Americans than ever are living in poverty, which may lead to more people struggling to access basic life necessities such as healthcare, food, and shelter.

Although the vast majority of Americans still report that they are not having trouble accessing basic necessities, the trend is currently going in the wrong direction. Additionally Gallup's global research finds Americans are now struggling more than Chinese to afford food, a reversal from 2008. If the worries about a double-dip recession come to fruition, even more Americans may start having problems meeting their basic needs.

Additionally, having basic needs met is a precursor to good health, high well-being, and ultimately positive economic outcomes. The three Basic Access Index items that have declined the most -- having a personal doctor, having health insurance, and visiting a dentist -- are all vital components of good preventative care, which ultimately helps to reduce costly and debilitating health problems.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Sept. 1-30, 2011, with a random sample of 29,313 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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