Four in 10 Americans See Their Standard of Living Declining

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Nearly as many say their standard of living has gotten worse as say it is better

PRINCETON, NJ -- Forty-three percent of Americans say their standard of living is worse now than it was five years ago, nearly matching the percentage (45%) who say their standard of living has gotten better during that time.

These results are based on a May 30-June 1 USA Today/Gallup poll. In the same poll, Gallup for the first time found a majority of Americans saying their personal finances are worse now than a year ago.

Lower-income Americans, those aged 50 and older, and those without college educations are among the subgroups who are most likely to believe their standard of living has deteriorated during the past five years.

Politics apparently color one's views on this matter, as a majority of Democrats and liberals, compared with fewer than half of Republicans and conservatives, report a diminished standard of living even as a Republican occupies the White House.

Typically, Americans are optimistic about how things will be in the future, and that applies in this case. When asked to project five years into the future, 62% say they expect their standard of living to be better; only 25% think it will be worse.

There is little variation on future expectations by demographic subgroup. One notable exception concerns age. Senior citizens, many of whom live on fixed incomes in retirement, are not optimistic about the future, with just 35% expecting an improved standard of living and 39% a worse one.

In addition to comparing their own standard of living to the recent past and near future, the poll asked Americans to compare where they are now to where their parents were at the same age, and where their children will be.

Sixty-three percent of Americans report that their current standard of living is better than their parents' at the same age, including 38% who say theirs is much better than their parents'. Only 18% say their standard of living is worse than that of their parents.

Americans are not quite as optimistic that their children will have a better quality of life than they do -- 45% expect their children's standard of living to be better than theirs is, 20% say it will be the same, and 28% believe it will be worse.

Younger adults are among the most optimistic about their children's economic situations, with 60% of 18- to 29-year-olds expecting their children to have a better standard of living than they do at the same age. That compares with just 38% of those aged 50 and older expecting a more comfortable financial situation for their children.


The problems in the economy are taking their toll on American consumers, with about as many now reporting a diminished standard of living as an improved one. Nevertheless, by and large, Americans still expect things to improve over the next five years.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 30-June 1, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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