Economy Trumps Oil as Major Concern

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Oil prices are more than $100 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate. Gasoline is approaching $4 a gallon. But Americans worry more about the economy than they do the price of energy, though it would seem the two should be linked.

A new Gallup poll shows that:

A variety of economic-related issues dominate Americans’ top concerns on a list of 15 issues facing the country today. The economy and gas prices lead the list, with 71% and 65% of Americans, respectively, saying they personally worry “a great deal” about each. These are followed by federal spending and the budget deficit (60%), the availability and affordability of healthcare (60%), unemployment (55%), Social Security (48%), and the availability and affordability of energy (48%).

Worry usually causes a drop in consumer spending. Americans also should continue to be concerned about the falling value of the real estate they own. The new S&P/Case-Shiller data for January showed another drop in home prices, and prices are near an eight-year low.

The worry over the economy and fuel prices now tops concerns about the deficit. The effects of the deficit may be years away. The effects of a slowdown in the economy could be just months away. Economists debate at what price gas will begin to overcome consumer spending activity. A decrease in spending would deepen the economic problems of Americans. The growth of those problems will make Americans less likely to make discretionary purchases. That, in turn, would trigger another recession. Gallup has reported that some “average” Americans still do not think the recession is over. That belief could widen over the balance of this year.

Methodology: Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 8 to 11, 2012, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Douglas A. McIntyre