What’s Hardest to Afford Now

The money may come out of the same pot, but people feel some expenses more keenly than others. A poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press makes this clear. It presented respondents with a list of items and asked how difficult they now find it to afford each one. Relatively few (5 percent) said they find it “very difficult” to afford food, though another 22 percent said they find this “somewhat difficult.” At the opposite end of the scale, 22 percent said they find it very difficult to afford gasoline, with another 38 percent saying it’s somewhat difficult. For healthcare, the tally was 16 percent “very” and 29 percent “somewhat”; for heating/electric bills, 11 percent “very” and 33 percent “somewhat”; and for taxes, 14 percent “very” and 37 percent “somewhat.”

One expects lower-income consumers to be rattled by the economy’s struggles, but many upper-income people are spooked about their finances. Among those in the $100,000-plus bracket, 33 percent said their income is falling behind the cost of living (which, depending on how they live, may be perfectly true). So did 56 percent of those in the $50,000-99,999 range and 70 percent of the $20,000-49,999 cohort.

While the overall inflation rate has been low in recent years, spikes in prices for gasoline and some foods have given consumers a sense that things are broadly awry. Seventy-nine percent said prices have gone up “a lot” over the past five years. For comparison’s sake, though, note that 63 percent said the same in June 2001-with scant factual basis for doing so.