CHICAGO (NewsNation) — Americans’ lives have fundamentally changed in response to rampant inflation, according to a new NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll released Monday. Across the country, consumers are cutting back on dining and entertainment but also essentials including groceries and gasoline.
Nearly half of those surveyed said they are worse off financially today than they were a year ago. By comparison, only 18% of respondents said they were better off. Even the post-pandemic travel boom is in jeopardy as people reconsider what they can afford.
With Memorial Day just around the corner, nearly half of registered voters say they’ve changed summer vacation plans — some moving trips closer to home but most saying they have had to cancel plans altogether. More than 70% of respondents said they have had to cut back on purchases over the last month.
The change in consumer behavior comes as the cost of goods continues to rise nationwide and inflation remains near 40-year highs. So where are consumers feeling it the most?
“Gasoline, gasoline, gasoline,” said Lynn Hoffman, a grandmother from Arizona, who was out for a walk while visiting Chicago on Sunday. Just last week, the average price for a gallon of gasoline topped $4 in every state for the first time ever.
Experts say prices at the pump and the economic reality of the country are more likely to impact Americans’ views on how the country is doing than other hot-button social issues. “If you have to change your vacation or you have a financial setback, that’s not some theoretical thing,” said Scott Tranter, adviser at DecisionDesk HQ.
The vast majority of respondents, nearly 65%, said inflation is a bigger problem in the U.S. today than unemployment, COVID-19 or crime:
- Inflation: 64.61%
- Unemployment: 6.39%
- COVID-19: 14.33%
- Crime: 14.66%
Opinions on the underlying causes of inflation vary widely, with some people NewsNation spoke to Sunday blaming President Joe Biden and the federal government. “I feel that Washington has failed us miserably and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop,” said Earl Schwartzhoff of Minnesota.
Schwartzhoff said Biden should prioritize domestic oil production and restart construction on the Keystone XL pipeline in order to curb energy prices. Others thought government spending had partially contributed to inflation but that it was the right decision given the hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can’t fault the government for giving the people what they need in a very dire hour,” said Tanya Landau, a graduate student in Chicago. “We spent a ton of money on incentives for people and checks to make sure they could put food on their plates. How can I not be OK with that happening?”
Landau said she remains hopeful that worker salaries will increase as companies attempt to retain talent in a post-pandemic world that has been plagued by labor shortages.
Despite strong consumer spending in recent months, some signs suggest demand may be starting to wane. Last week, two of the nation’s largest retailers, Walmart and Target, posted quarterly earnings far below expectations.
Nearly 60% of those surveyed now say it’s at least somewhat difficult to make ends meet. It’s an early indication that Americans are starting to worry about the future. That concern means some people are delaying big purchases, instead they’re focused on saving in the near term.
“Rent’s going up and the housing market’s going up. So you’re going to lose either way. I’m just kind of waiting for things to calm down,” said Alyssa Hach in Chicago.