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Many Americans say their household expenses exceed their income this year, AP-NORC poll finds

NEW YORK — About 2 in 3 Americans say their household expenses have increased over the past year, but only about 1 in 4 say their income has increased over the same period, according to a new Associated Press poll -NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

As household spending outpaces income, many are expressing concerns about their financial future. What’s more, for most Americans, household debt has either increased over the past year or not gone away.

Steve Shapiro, 61, who works as a sound engineer in Pittsburgh, said he spent about $100 a week on groceries before last year, but now forks out more than $200.

“My income has stayed the same,” he said. “The economy is good on paper, but I’m not doing very well.”

About 8 in 10 Americans say their overall household debt is higher or about the same as it was a year ago. About half say they currently have credit card debt, 4 in 10 have auto loans and about 1 in 4 have medical debt. Only 15% say their household savings have increased over the past year.

Tracy Gonzales, 36, who works as a construction subcontractor in San Antonio, Texas, has several thousand dollars in medical debt following a visit to the emergency room for what she thought was a severe headache but turned turned out to be a dental infection.

“They will treat you, but the bills are crazy,” she said. Gonzales said she tried to avoid seeking medical treatment because of the costs.

Relatively few Americans say they are very or extremely confident in their ability to pay for unexpected medical expenses (26%) or have enough money for retirement (18%). Only about a third are extremely or very confident that their current financial situation will allow them to meet their expenses, although another 42% say they are somewhat confident.

“I’ve looked forward to retirement my whole life. Recently I realized it just wasn’t going to happen,” said Shapiro, of Pittsburgh, adding that his wife’s roughly $30,000 in student debt is a financial factor for his household. The couple had hoped to sell their home and move last year, but instead decided to keep their 3.4 percent mortgage rate, rather than face a higher rate. (The current average long-term mortgage rate reached 7.79% this month.)

About 3 in 10 Americans say they have forgone a major purchase because of rising interest rates over the past year. Nearly one in four American adults has student debt, with the pandemic-era federal loan payment pause ending this month, contributing to the crisis.

Will Clouse, 77, of Westlake, Ohio, said inflation is his biggest concern as he lives on a fixed income during retirement.

“A box of movie theater candy – Sno-Caps – that used to cost 99 cents now costs fifty dollars at the grocery store,” he said. “That’s a 50% price increase. Someone is taking advantage of someone.”

Americans are generally split on whether Republicans (29%) or Democrats (25%) are best suited to handle America’s inflation problem. Three in 10 people say they don’t trust either party to solve it.

Geri Putnam, 85, of Thomson, Ga., said she has been following the ongoing autoworker strikes with sympathy for the workers’ demands.

“I don’t think what they’re asking is too much, when you see what CEOs make,” she said. “I think things have gotten out of control. When you can walk into a store and see the next day, everywhere, an increase in the dollar, it’s a little strange. I understand supply and demand, the cost of shipping , et cetera. But it seems to me that everyone is looking at their results.”

Putnam also said she sees her six children struggling financially more than her generation.

“They all have jobs and have never gone without,” she said. “They’re high achievers, but I think at least two or three of them will never be able to buy a house.”

A slight majority of all Americans surveyed (54%) rate their household financial situation as good, which is about the same as last year, but down from 63% in March 2022. Americans older people are much more confident in their current situation. finances than young Americans. Only 39% of those aged 18 to 29 describe their household finances as good, compared to a majority (58%) of those aged 30 and over. People with higher levels of education or higher household incomes are more likely than Americans overall to rate their finances as strong.

About three-quarters of Americans describe the nation’s economy as poor, consistent with measurements from early last year.

Among retirees, 3 in 10 say they are very confident that they have saved enough for their retirement, around 4 in 10 are somewhat confident and 31% are not very confident or not at all confident.

Clouse, of Ohio, said the majority of his money had gone toward his wife’s care in recent years because she was ill. When she died last year, her family lost their Social Security and pension contributions. He considers that the political unrest between Republicans and Democrats is harming the economy, but remains very frustrated by the rise in prices in supermarkets.

“Groceries are going up 20, 30, 40 percent. There’s no reason for that other than people in grocery markets are making more money,” he said. “They’re ripping off the consumer. I wish Mr. Biden would do something about this.”

About 4 in 10 Americans (38%) approve of Biden’s handling of the presidency, while 61% disapprove. His overall approval numbers have remained low in recent years. Most Americans generally disapprove of how he is handling the federal budget (68% disapprove), the economy (67%) and student debt (58%).


The survey of 1,163 adults was conducted October 5-9, 2023, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to represent the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.


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