Elevated Household Expenses Surpass Income Gains for Majority of Americans, Big Big News-NORC Survey Reveals

by Madison Thomas
financial anxieties

As of 12:01 ET

A recent survey by The Big Big News-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates that approximately 67% of Americans have experienced a rise in household expenses over the past year. Meanwhile, a mere 25% report an increase in income during the same timeframe.

The widening gap between expenses and earnings is causing heightened apprehensions concerning financial stability. Additionally, for the majority of U.S. citizens, the level of household debt has either increased over the last year or remained stagnant.

Steve Shapiro, a 61-year-old audio engineer based in Pittsburgh, disclosed that his weekly grocery expenses have doubled from $100 to nearly $200 within the past year, even though his income has remained unchanged.

“While the economic indicators may look positive, my financial situation is not thriving,” Shapiro observed.

Roughly 80% of Americans state that their total household debt is either greater or equivalent to what it was one year ago. Approximately 50% have current credit card debt, 40% are grappling with auto loans, and 25% have incurred medical debt. Only 15% have seen an increase in household savings over the last year.

Tracy Gonzales, a 36-year-old subcontractor in the construction industry in San Antonio, Texas, carries several thousand dollars in medical debt following an emergency room visit for a severe headache, which was later diagnosed as a tooth infection.

“The medical treatment is available, but the costs are exorbitant,” Gonzales commented, adding that she has been reluctant to seek further medical treatment due to the financial burden.

Only a small proportion of Americans, 26%, express high confidence in their ability to cover an unexpected medical expense. Even fewer, 18%, are highly confident in their preparedness for retirement. Roughly one-third have strong confidence in their current financial situation sustaining their lifestyle, although an additional 42% describe themselves as somewhat confident.

Shapiro from Pittsburgh has abandoned plans for retirement, citing his wife’s approximately $30,000 student debt as a financial obstacle for their household. With the current average long-term mortgage rate reaching 7.79% this month, they have chosen to retain their existing 3.4% mortgage rate.

In the past year, about 30% of Americans have abstained from major purchases due to rising interest rates. Nearly one-fourth carry student loan debt, exacerbating financial strain as the federal loan payment pause concludes this month.

Will Clouse, a 77-year-old retiree from Westlake, Ohio, expressed his primary concern as inflation, particularly since he survives on a fixed income.

“The price of everyday items has surged disproportionately. This is exploitation,” he remarked.

Public opinion is divided on whether Republicans (29%) or Democrats (25%) are more capable of managing inflation. Another 30% have no faith in either party to adequately address the issue.

Geri Putnam, 85, from Thomson, Georgia, is empathetic toward ongoing auto strikes.

“It’s not unreasonable what the workers are demanding, considering the salaries that CEOs command,” Putnam noted.

Putnam also witnesses her six children facing greater financial struggles than her own generation did, despite being gainfully employed.

A slim majority of respondents (54%) rate their household’s financial status as good, declining from 63% in March 2022. Older Americans are generally more optimistic about their finances compared to younger individuals. Education and income level also play a role in financial confidence.

Around 75% describe the country’s economic situation as poor, consistent with data from early last year.

Of those who are retired, 30% are highly confident in their retirement savings, 40% are somewhat confident, and 31% lack confidence.

Clouse in Ohio believes the ongoing political discord is detrimental to the economy and is particularly disturbed by skyrocketing grocery prices.

“Unjustifiable hikes in grocery prices need to be addressed. It’s exploitative,” he stated.

A mere 38% of Americans approve of President Biden’s handling of his office, while a staggering 61% disapprove. The President’s performance ratings in managing the federal budget, the economy, and student debt are overwhelmingly negative, according to the majority of Americans.

The survey consisted of 1,163 adult respondents and was carried out between October 5 and 9, 2023. The sample was derived from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, aimed to be representative of the U.S. populace. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about financial anxieties

What is the primary focus of the Big Big News-NORC survey?

The primary focus of the Big Big News-NORC survey is to examine the financial state of American households, particularly in relation to the rise in expenses and stagnant or declining income levels.

How many Americans report an increase in household expenses?

Approximately 67% of Americans report an increase in household expenses over the past year, according to the survey.

What percentage of Americans have seen their income rise in the same period?

Only about 25% of Americans say their income has increased over the past year, creating a disparity between income and expenses.

What is the general sentiment about household debt?

About 80% of Americans indicate that their total household debt is either higher or about the same compared to the previous year. Various forms of debt, including credit card debt, auto loans, and medical debt, are prevalent.

How confident are Americans about covering unexpected medical expenses?

Only 26% of Americans are highly confident in their ability to cover an unexpected medical expense, reflecting a lack of financial security.

What are the public opinions regarding political handling of economic issues?

The public is divided on who can better manage the economy, with 29% favoring Republicans and 25% favoring Democrats. Three in ten say they have no faith in either party to adequately address economic issues such as inflation.

What is the approval rating of President Biden in terms of economic handling?

Only 38% of Americans approve of how President Biden is handling his presidency, with even lower approval ratings specifically for his handling of the federal budget, the economy, and student debt.

How confident are retirees about their retirement savings?

Among retirees, 30% are highly confident in their retirement savings, 40% are somewhat confident, and 31% are not confident at all, highlighting a sense of financial vulnerability among this demographic.

What is the margin of error in the survey?

The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for all respondents.

Was the survey sample representative of the U.S. population?

Yes, the survey sample was drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to be representative of the U.S. population.

More about financial anxieties

  • Big Big News-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research
  • U.S. Inflation Data
  • AmeriSpeak Panel Methodology
  • Federal Reserve Report on Household Debt
  • U.S. Census Bureau on Income Distribution
  • Social Security and Retirement Savings Statistics
  • President Biden’s Approval Ratings
  • Federal Student Loan Information
  • U.S. Economic Indicators

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Mike Thompson October 27, 2023 - 8:54 am

Wow, these numbers are really telling. Kinda crazy that only 1 in 4 people have seen their income go up but 2 in 3 are dealing with higher bills. What’s goin on?

Karen Miller October 27, 2023 - 11:42 am

Medical debt is a silent crisis. Been there, done that. They treat you, but then you’re stuck with insane bills. Not a sustainable system at all.

Sandra Williams October 27, 2023 - 12:39 pm

Honestly, I’m not surprised. Cost of living keeps rising but wages? Nah, they stay the same. We’re all feeling the pinch, it’s not just a few.

Jeffery K. October 27, 2023 - 5:59 pm

No wonder people don’t trust either party to handle inflation. With expenses skyrocketing like this, where’s the relief? politicians are out of touch, period.


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