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Americans' Ability to Afford Food Nears Three-Year Low

Americans' Ability to Afford Food Nears Three-Year Low

by Lymari Morales

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The percentage of Americans reporting that they had enough money to buy the food they or their families needed continued to decline in October, nearing the record low seen in November 2008. The percentage who did not lack money for food in 2011 fell to 79.8% from 80.1% in September, continuing a decline that began in April.

Fewer saying no to not affording food

This is only the second time since Gallup and Healthways began tracking this measure as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in January 2008 that less than 80% of Americans reported that they had enough money to buy food throughout the past year. The record low was in November 2008, at the start of the economic crisis, when 79.4% reported that they had enough money to buy food for themselves or their families.

This measure -- which asks if one had enough money to buy food in the past 12 months -- has decreased to its lowest level of the calendar year each October since 2009. The reason for this pattern is unclear and does not appear to be related to world food prices. In 2008, fewer Americans reported that they had enough money to buy food in August and November than in October, likely affected by high gas prices in the former case and the onset of the economic crisis in the latter. Still, this October finds fewer Americans saying that they had enough money to buy food over the past year than in each October for the past three years.

Further indicating that Americans are facing mounting economic strain, the percentages saying they have enough money to provide adequate shelter or housing and healthcare and/or medicines for themselves or their families have also declined each October since 2009. These percentages did show slight improvement between 2008 and 2009.

Not lacking money for basic needs

Americans' Access to Basic Needs Falls to New Record Low

Americans' access to basic needs is now at the lowest level recorded since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in January 2008. The Basic Access Index -- which comprises 13 measures, including Americans' ability to afford food, housing, and healthcare -- declined to a record-low score of 81.2 in October. This means Americans' access to basic needs, though still high in an absolute sense, is now worse than it was throughout the economic crisis and recession, including the prior record lows recorded in February and March 2009.

Basic Access Index score

For complete results for all items in the Basic Access Index for October 2011, see page 2.


Gallup's finding that fewer Americans are now reporting that they had enough money to buy food for themselves or their families than at any point since November 2008 adds to the growing evidence that more Americans are in extreme economic distress. The U.S. Census Bureau also recently released the findings of a new poverty measure classifying a record-high 15.1% of Americans as poor. The experimental measure takes into account the increasing amount U.S. families are spending on basic needs beyond food, including out-of-pocket medical care, child care, and commuting.

It is possible that these increasing costs are making it even more difficult for low-income Americans to afford food for themselves and their families on a consistent basis. More Americans reporting that they do not have enough money to afford key essentials and access basic necessities is proof of the nation's challenging economic situation. Further, a record-high percentage of Americans currently rate their personal financial situations as poor.

Helping more Americans to afford food, shelter, and medicine on a regular basis is arguably as important as helping the jobless find jobs. Only when basic needs are met can individuals actively work to lift themselves out of poverty and to maximize their full potential in society.

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 Oct. 1-31, 2011, with a random sample of 30,289 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

Basic Access Index items

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