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Rising Prices vs. Non-Rising Incomes

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If you're prone to financial worries, you now have a wealth of topics to fret about. Some cause more anxiety than others, though, and polling by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds people most rattled by inflation.

Asked to think about their own financial situation and cite the factor that worries them most, nearly half the respondents pointed to "rising prices" (49 percent). This exceeds the sum of those who picked "the job situation" (19 percent), "problems in the financial markets" (14 percent) or "declining real estate values" (12 percent).

Worry about inflation is not confined to lower-income consumers. Indeed, in the Pew survey, people in the $50,000-74,999 bracket were more likely than those making less than $30,000 to say rising prices are their chief concern (59 percent vs. 49 percent). Even among those in the $100,000-plus class, rising prices were the most-cited economic worry (by 38 percent).

People would be less spooked by inflation if they felt their income was rising. But an Economist/YouGov poll finds just 24 percent of respondents expecting this to happen in the next 12 months, barely outnumbering the 19 percent who think their income will decline during that period. (Most of the rest think it will stay about the same.) There's more optimism among high-income consumers, but not much. Twenty-nine percent in the $100,000-plus bracket think their income will rise in the next 12 months, while 15 percent expect a decline.

The wild card in all this is the possibility of losing a job. Twenty percent of respondents in a working household are "very worried" that they or another household member may lose a job, with another 33 percent somewhat worried. Though the "very worried" vote was highest for the under-$50,000 cohort (at 26 percent), it hit double digits in the $50,000-99,999 bracket (15 percent) and among those making $100,000-plus (13 percent).