What Keeps Americans Up at Night — Food and Fuel

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Americans worry about the battle in Congress over the deficit and national debt. They also fret about the overall economy, job creation and the real estate market. At the heart of their concerns, though, stand the prices of essentials such as food and fuel. The daily budget of the U.S. household weighs on the minds of many citizens, even if the anxiety is rarely covered in the media or discussed by politicians and economic analysts.

According to a new Gallup poll:

Americans are most likely to say the price of energy, the price of food, taxes, and healthcare costs are hurting their family’s finances a lot or a little, out of a list of nine economic issues. Americans appear relatively unaffected by the availability of credit or immigration policies.

The size of people’s pocketbooks logically affect everyday life.

While it may not be obvious as oil prices have dropped and the price of agriculture commodities has stabilized, these prices are still near historic levels. The price for a gallon of regular gas remains stubbornly above $3.30, and signs of oil prices indicate that they could tick up again, albeit not at the same rate as a year ago. And the American Farm Bureau Federation reports food prices will rise as much as 3% to 4%, partially caused by drought and partially caused by high feed prices for cattle.

The rise of health care costs need not be mentioned. These costs continue to rise each year, and federal government efforts to cap them may have no effect for years, if there is any effect at all.

The other source of worry about household expenses stems from the fact that real income for most Americans has not risen for a decade when inflation gets taken into account. Government data has shown that household assets and wages hover near 1990 levels, when adjusted on that basis.

Americans have less to spend, based on their incomes from the past decade, and more expensive things to buy. The news out of Washington about the debt cap and government spending control may dominate the front pages, but desperate attempts by Americans to make ends meet are more critical to the average citizen.

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Methodology: Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 21 to 22, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,016 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia

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