Research Impacts - Polls

Americans Concerned About Their Economic Security

Release Date: 7/2/2008
 

By Seth Brohinsky and Mark Schulman, Abt SRBI

With the Presidential election looming, most Americans see the country and the economy headed down the wrong track, with economic conditions worsening and the American Dream slipping away as well, according to a new poll by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The poll finds 85% of Americans feel the country is on the wrong track; this sentiment is even stronger among Hispanics (88%) and African Americans (96%).


Generally speaking, do you think the economy in this country is going in the right direction, or do you feel that things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track?

 

Total
(%)

White
(%)

African American
(%)

Hispanic
(%)

Right Direction

10

11

2

7

Wrong Track

85

84

96

88

No Answer/Don't Know

5

5

2

5


Economic Conditions Taking a Toll

More than three-quarters (76%) of all Americans, and an even greater percentage of Hispanic (85%) and African Americans (85%), have been forced to make sacrifices in the past year due to their current economic situation. These sacrifices include not only cutting back on discretionary spending, but also on basics, such as avoiding doctor visits and not filling prescriptions. These cutbacks include:

  • Vacations or entertainment - 64%
  • Failure to pay a bill on time - 37%
    • Half of Hispanics (49%) have failed to pay a bill on time;
    • 3 in 5 (60%) of African Americans have failed to pay a bill on time;
  • 1 in 4 Americans (25%) have not gone to the doctor because of the cost.

In the past year, was there ever a time when you...?

 

Total
(%)

White
(%)

African American
(%)

Hispanic
(%)

Cut back on vacations
or entertainment
because of their cost

64

64

73

66

Failed to pay a bill on
time

37

32

60

49

Have not gone to a
doctor because of the
cost

25

25

29

35

Have not filled a
medical prescription
because of the cost

23

23

30

30

Have gone without
health insurance

23

20

33

37

Have taken money out
of your personal or
retirement savings to
pay for health related
expenses

20

19

22

22

Were unemployed, but
not by personal
choice

20

16

32

29

Have been hungry
because you could
not afford food

8

6

17

16


In Debt to Meet Expenses

As many Americans are cutting spending, 38% have borrowed or incurred debt within the past year. A greater percentage of both African Americans (53%) and Hispanics (57%) have done so to meet expenses.

  • Borrowed money from a friend or relative - 22%
  • Used the revolving credit line on your credit card to pay off debts - 13%
  • Borrowed against a retirement plan - 11%
  • Taken out a second mortgage or home equity loan - 9%

Only 44% of Americans say they have saved enough money to handle a personal crisis without suffering a drop in their living standard.

For Some, Best Days Are in Past

Americans are clearly divided when asked if America's best days are ahead or behind it; a slight majority (53%) believe the best days are still to come, however 40% feel America was a better place to live in the 1990's and will continue to decline.

  • Younger people are less optimistic: 49% of 18-29 year olds feel America was a better place in the 1990's.
    • However, a majority (54%) of the older Americans, 30 or older, feel America's best days are still ahead.
  • Optimism is also divided among income groups; a majority (55%) of low income Americans, those making under $35,000 annually, feel America was a better place in the 1990's.
    • Of those making over $35,000 annually, 6 in 10 (60%) believe America's best days are ahead.
    • Most optimistic about America's future are those making over $100,000: 69% believe the best days are ahead.

Which of the following is closer to your view...?

 

Total
(%)

Under
$20K
(%)

$20K to
under
$35K
(%)

$35K to
under
$50K
(%)

$50K to
under
100K
(%)

$100K
or
more
(%)

American was a better place to live in the
1990's and will continue to decline

40

50

59

39

35

26

America's best days are still ahead of it

53

42

35

55

58

69

No Answer/Don't Know

7

8

5

6

7

5


Most Americans (87%) say they are "working as hard or harder than ever just to get by."

Most Americans (75%) also feel the next generation will have to struggle much more than them to achieve economic security. Only less than one in five (18%) feel the next generation will not have any problems making ends meet and will be more economically secure then themselves.

Achieving the American Dream

Signaling a downturn in economic conditions in this country, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans feel it is harder to achieve the American Dream today than it was ten years ago.

  • Seven in ten (70%) of those with less than a college education feel it is harder to achieve the American Dream today then ten years ago; compared to a slight majority (55%) of American's with a post-graduate education.

Family Important to Achieving American Dream / Economic Security

Americans feel family, more so than personal satisfaction, is the key to achieving the American Dream. The four most important factors in achieving the American Dream are: Having a good family life (93%), being able to feed myself and my family (92%), having quality healthcare for myself and my family (90%), and having educational opportunities for myself and my family (88%).

Personal satisfaction such as having the time to enjoy the good things in life without having to work too many hours (59%) are not as important to Americans. While economic conditions may be difficult, most Americans are willing to work hard and sacrifice personal enjoyment to provide for their family.

Economic security can be affected by both positive and negative external factors.

  • Small businesses, schools, colleges, and universities, and the company you work for; are all viewed as helping more than hurting economic security.
  • On the other hand: The news media, Congress, the President, undocumented immigrants, special interests in Washington, and oil companies are all viewed as hurting more than helping economic security.

Is the following helping you a great deal in achieving economic
security, helping somewhat, hurting somewhat, hurting a great
deal, or not having much effect one way or another?

 

Helping
some/great
deal (%)

Hurting
some/great
deal (%)

Net
Score
(%)

Small Businesses

68

10

58

Schools, Colleges, and
Universities

64

18

46

The Company You Work For

56

11

45

The News Media

25

54

-29

Congress

24

55

-31

The President

21

62

-41

Undocumented Immigrants

17

62

-45

Special Interests in
Washington

14

65

-51

Oil Companies>

9

81

-72

 

Methodology

This Rockefeller Foundation poll was conducted by telephone June 19 - 29, 2008 among a national random sample of 1,004 Americans, age 18 and older throughout America (additionally, oversamples of 502 African Americans and 502 Hispanics were conducted).

The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 3 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error, and respondent error.

Abt SRBI Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing. The project team included Mark Schulman, Seth Brohinsky, Dean Williams, and David Ciemnecki, all in the New York office.

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