Poll: Americans feel inflation’s impact on living standards, opportunities


The impact of inflation may even go beyond the immediate pressure on Americans’ pocketbooks, to a greater sense that it is stifling opportunity in America and the deeper sense that the nation’s economic problems in recent years as a whole have been more severe than others it has faced. for generations.

So even amid stronger jobs reports and economists’ talk of “soft landings,” people say they’re still paying more attention to their own experiences than to macroeconomic measures — and an overwhelming number say their incomes aren’t keeping up.

More people today say their standard of living is worse, not better, than their parents’, and it’s an age group that includes a lot of millennials and Gen-Xers, currently in their prime working years, who are particularly likely to think it—a sentiment that runs counter to the traditional notion of the American Dream.

It has been four decades since Americans have seen inflation like they have seen in recent years. When asked to put current issues in context, Americans say the economic difficulties arising from the pandemic have been the worst in a few generations, more than the crash and the Great Recession of 2008-09, other recessionary periods in the 90s and 80s. , and more than the inflation and gas shortages of the 1970s.

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Today will certainly be fresher in the mind and bring some recent effects here, but it underscores the fact that many adults have not been through this kind of inflation before. (And for those over 65 who came of age in the 1970s, the country’s more recent difficulties stand out to them, too.)

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The “disconnect” between micro and macro?

For months, the nation’s traditional “macro” numbers such as job growth and employment, GDP and even inflation have often shown signs of strength or improvement.

So we just asked directly what they pay attention to – and people say they pay more attention to personal experiences than to these kinds of financial numbers.

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And the job market may be strong, but an overwhelming three-quarters feel their income is not keeping up with inflation.

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There is a prevailing feeling that opportunities are only increasing for the wealthy, not the middle class. Overall, Americans have expressed skepticism about unequal opportunity for a while, but today the larger idea that “everyone has a chance to get ahead” is down from pre-pandemic levels.

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So what can we do?

More interest rate hikes are not a widely popular idea to control inflation – they are especially unpopular among people in the lowest income brackets.

Americans are also unwilling to see unemployment rise (perhaps a consequence of higher rates) if it meant a dampening of inflation.

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Back in the late 1970s, when the nation was facing high inflation, a CBS News poll asked about it and asked about the idea of ​​government price controls. So we asked a similar question now – and found that most people would support the (very hypothetical) idea.

Price control support includes a large number of Democrats, and while the party may be associated with a more free market approach in the public mind, more than half of Republicans also support it.

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What does this mean for the White House?

Most Americans think they are president able to control inflation.

In some contexts, in a somewhat similar matter from the 1970s and 80s, many thought so even then. Given the complexity of the world economy—and that people recognize multiple causes of inflation—they might be able to make accurate readings of the office’s power. But regardless, as long as inflation is high, that may be one of the reasons why President Biden continues to get bad marks on his handling of it.

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People don’t blame themselves for inflation in terms of “higher consumer demand.” Their main reasons point further afield, to international factors, suspicions of corporate overpricing and public spending.

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Inflation remains the main reason people say they feel the economy is bad when they do. Overall, views on the economy are still largely negative (although much of that is also driven by partisanship) and closer back to where they were in the spring than they were in the fall. The pattern this year has been the number that says “poor,” hovering around the low to mid-60s; perhaps reflecting some lingering uncertainty about its overall outlook.

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Mr. Biden continues to be widely disapproved of for his handling of inflation, and Americans are increasingly inclined to believe that his administration’s actions have caused it to grow, not decrease.

The Biden administration often touts its legislative record on the economy, but Americans’ ratings of things like the Build Back Better Act and the Inflation Reduction Act are mixed. Many, including in the president’s own party, say they haven’t heard enough about them, at least not by name.

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This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,144 US adult residents interviewed between December 6 and 8, 2023. The sample was weighted by gender, age, race and education based on the US Census American Community Survey and Current population survey, as well as previous voting. The margin of error is ±2.8 points.

In the CBS News poll referenced from 1979 and 2017, interviews were conducted with respondents via telephone using RDD sampling. The main problem item from 1979 was coded then from open-ended responses.

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