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Healthcare Costs Top Financial Problem for U.S. Families

Healthcare Costs Top Financial Problem for U.S. Families

Story Highlights

  • 17% name healthcare in response to open-ended question
  • Lack of money or low wages only other issue mentioned by at least 10%
  • Healthcare has been most commonly named top problem historically

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are more likely to name healthcare costs than any other issue when asked to say what is the most important financial problem facing their family. Seventeen percent name healthcare, followed by lack of money or low wages, named by 11%. A year ago, those two issues and personal debt essentially tied for first; healthcare was also the clear leader in 2017.

Most Important Family Financial Problem, 2017-2019
What is the most important financial problem facing your family today? [OPEN-ENDED]
2017 2018 2019
% % %
Healthcare costs 17 12 17
Lack of money/Low wages 10 13 11
College expenses 10 8 8
Cost of owning/renting a home 9 7 8
Taxes 5 5 8
Too much debt/Not enough money to pay debts 11 11 6
High cost of living/Inflation 8 7 6
Retirement savings 6 5 5
Unemployment/Loss of job 3 5 3
State of the economy 1 1 1
Social Security 3 1 1
Lack of savings 2 2 1
Interest rates 1 * 1
Transportation/Commuting costs 1 1 *
Stock market/Investments * 2 *
Controlling spending 1 * *
Energy costs/Oil and gas prices * 1 --
Other 4 5 5
None 16 14 20
No opinion 4 4 2
Percentages total more than 100% due to multiple responses; * Less than 0.5%

After healthcare costs and low wages, college expenses, housing costs and taxes are the problems mentioned next-most commonly in this year's survey, with 8% of Americans citing each.

The April 17-30 survey comes at a time of high economic confidence, when relatively few Americans name economic matters as the most important problem facing the country. Additionally, several different measures of Americans' personal financial situations are among the most positive Gallup has measured in years.

Consistent with their sunny financial outlook, 20% of Americans respond that they do not have a "most important financial problem." That is one of the highest percentages responding "none" in Gallup's 14-year trend on the question, surpassed only by the 21% who said so in a February 2005 poll. Still, even in these generally good economic times, the vast majority of Americans do mention some financial matter that is a major concern for their family.

Healthcare Costs Usually Near Top of the List

Gallup has asked the "most important family financial problem" question on 48 separate occasions since 2005. During that time, only three issues -- healthcare costs, energy costs/oil and gas prices and lack of money/low wages -- have topped the list in any single poll.

Healthcare costs typically vied with energy costs as the top problem before the Great Recession, largely dependent on the price of gasoline. This included a record-high 29% mentioning gas prices in July 2008, when gasoline prices averaged over $4 per gallon nationwide. But in the ensuing periods of high unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery between 2009 and 2014, lack of money or low wages was most often the No. 1 personal financial problem. Healthcare costs have ranked first in two of the past three surveys, and have been at least tied for first in each poll since 2014.

Line graph. Healthcare costs, energy costs and lack of money have all ranked as the top personal financial problem since 2005.

Mentions of energy costs have dwindled in recent years as gas prices have been lower, and in the current survey, no respondent cited energy costs as the most important financial problem. Since 2005, an average of 8% of U.S. adults have named energy costs. Healthcare costs (14%) and lack of money (13%) have been most frequently mentioned. Those are the highest averages for any issues and the only two above 10%.

Older Americans Especially Likely to Name Healthcare Costs as Top Problem

Healthcare is the most commonly mentioned financial challenge for key subgroups and is especially likely to be named by older Americans. Twenty-five percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 64, and 23% of those aged 65 and older, say healthcare costs are the biggest problem for their family's finances.

Healthcare ties for first among adults younger than 50, who are about as likely to name lack of money, college expenses and housing costs as their greatest financial challenges. The youngest adults -- those under age 30 -- also commonly mention debt and the high cost of living.

Retirement savings are a greater concern for those in the pre-retirement years (aged 50 to 64), but something few young adults or senior citizens view as a problem.

Most Important Financial Problem, by Age
18-29 years old 30-49 years old 50-64 years old 65+ years old
% % % %
Healthcare costs 11 13 25 23
Lack of money/Low wages 13 10 12 8
College expenses 11 12 6 3
Housing costs 12 11 5 3
Taxes 5 8 11 7
Debt 10 6 6 3
High cost of living/Inflation 10 4 4 8
Retirement savings 1 5 11 3
Gallup, April 17-30, 2019

Americans at different income levels are about equally likely to name healthcare as the most important financial problem, with between 17% and 19% in each income group doing so. Lack of money is, not surprisingly, a much greater concern for lower-income Americans. Upper- and middle-income Americans are more inclined to cite college expenses, taxes and retirement savings as their chief financial challenges.

Most Important Financial Problem, by Annual Household Income
Under $40,000 $40,000-$99,999 $100,000 or more
% % %
Healthcare costs 19 17 17
Lack of money/Low wages 16 10 6
College expenses 3 10 12
Housing costs 10 9 5
Taxes 4 10 11
Debt 9 4 6
High cost of living/Inflation 8 6 4
Retirement savings 1 6 10
Gallup, April 17-30, 2019


Even in generally good economic times, Americans still face significant personal financial challenges. Foremost among these are healthcare costs, which have been a consistent concern over time but currently stand above all other concerns. As such, healthcare will likely continue to be a major focus in national elections, including the 2020 presidential election. Older Americans, who are more likely to need healthcare and who are more likely to vote than younger Americans, may pay special attention to what the candidates' plans are for addressing healthcare costs.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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