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Americans See Healthcare, Low Wages as Top Financial Problems

Americans See Healthcare, Low Wages as Top Financial Problems

by Art Swift

Story Highlights

  • 14% in U.S. cite healthcare, low wages
  • Top earners name retirement savings, college expenses
  • Low earners' top concern is "lack of money/cash flow"

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Healthcare costs and lack of money or low wages rank as the most important financial problems facing American families, each mentioned by 14% of U.S. adults. Fewer Americans than a year ago cite the high cost of living or unemployment, and the percentage naming oil or gas prices is down from 2012.

Most Important Financial Problem in U.S., Recent Trend

Gallup has been asking Americans about the most important financial problem facing their family in an open-ended format for the past 10 years. Healthcare this year has returned to the top of the list for the first time since early 2010, when the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," was signed into law. Still, Americans viewed it as an even bigger financial problem in 2007, when a range of 16% to 19% said it was most important.

Notably, 6% of Americans see the high cost of living or inflation as their family's biggest financial problem, down from 13% just over three years ago. And in today's era of sub-$50-per-barrel oil, only 2% name energy costs, or oil or gas prices as their most important financial problem, down significantly from 11% in 2012 amid a spike in oil prices.

The percentage who don't mention any financial problem is up five percentage points from last year, to 17%. This sizable uptick suggests that the economic recovery may be reducing the financial problems that families face.

Most Important Financial Problems Vary Across Income Groups

For Americans earning $75,000 or more a year, retirement savings, college expenses and healthcare costs rank as the most important financial problems. Among lower-income Americans, retirement savings and college expenses are less important. Healthcare costs, however, have double-digit-percentage support across the board.

Americans' Most Important Financial Problem, by Income, January 2015

Perhaps not surprisingly, lower-income Americans name "lack of money/cash flow" and "not enough money to pay debts" as their top most important money woes. The stock market or investments, interest rates, retirement savings and controlling spending do not rank among lower-income Americans' top financial problems.

Bottom Line

The American economy continues to recover. With Gallup's Economic Confidence Index in positive territory for the first time since the Great Recession, and with President Barack Obama stating that the U.S. last year had its best year for job growth since 1999, certain financial problems have receded from the nation's memory, while others have persisted in the forefront. Americans have consistently cited healthcare, a topic of fierce debate this decade, as one of the most important financial problems, and it remains so.

Lack of money and low wages are still an important problem for many Americans, yet unemployment and the high cost of living are mentioned less often than in recent years, as are energy prices. Whether these developments result from a stronger economy or are just not top of mind, Americans' financial worries clearly have shifted over the past few years.

Issues that have remained low-level concerns all decade -- including Social Security, the stock market, controlling spending and transportation costs -- remain low again this year, suggesting that, good times or bad, Americans are not concerned about these issues affecting their families' financial situation.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 5-8, 2015, on the Gallup Poll Social Series, with a random sample of 804 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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