Economy

About 40% of Americans Worrying About Money

by Frank Newport

Percentage is higher than the average for the first eight months of 2008

PRINCETON, NJ -- About 40% of Americans on average are currently worrying about money, sustaining a slight but significant increase in worry compared to readings before September of this year.

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Gallup's personal finance measure reports the percentage of Americans who say they worried about money "yesterday." The results, although varying significantly by day of the week, are highly stable when aggregated on a rolling, seven-day basis, as reflected in the accompanying seven-day rolling average chart. (Gallup.com reports a three-day rolling average daily.)

Americans' self-reports that they worried about money began 2008 near 30%, on average, and then rose to an average of about 35% through the end of the summer. Then, as was the case for other consumer economic measures Gallup tracks, financial worry begin to rise in mid- to late September, coincident with the highly publicized credit crisis. The average worry level peaked at about 45% in early October, and has fallen back slightly since, generally remaining above the 40% level. The notable exception was a drop in financial worry around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thus, on average, there appears to have been about a five-point increase in the percentage of Americans who worry about money, when the current situation is compared to that which obtained for the first eight months of the year. The large sample sizes involved in this tracking -- about 3,500 interviews per seven-day rolling average -- underscore the conclusion that while the increase in worry is not large on an absolute basis, it is significant and meaningful.

At the same time, it is worth noting that fewer Americans report personally having worried about money than report a negative evaluation of the U.S. economy. The latter has been running at about a 75% to 80% negative rating in recent days, almost twice as high as the financial worry number. In other words, Americans are much more likely to report having a negative view of the overall economy than they are to say they personally worried about money. This is another indication that Americans remain personally resilient in the face of the highly negative economic news and environment that engulf the country at this time.

Not surprisingly, there are significant variations in worry by day of the week. An analysis of more than 150,000 interviews conducted since the beginning of the year shows that Americans are most likely to say they worried about money on the first four days of the work week, with a slight dropoff in worry on Friday, and then a bigger dropoff in financial worry on Saturday and Sunday.

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These results suggest that the weekend is a "time off" from financial worry for many Americans, even though for some, the weekend may be a time to focus on paying bills, household shopping, and other financial chores.

Implications

There is good news and bad news in a consideration of these "worry" data, which Gallup tracks on a daily basis. The good news is that the majority of Americans on a day-in, day-out basis say they did not worry about money "yesterday," a number that is far less negative than Americans' ratings of the economy and their ratings of how easy it is to find a quality job. The bad news is that this worry percentage has increased significantly since September, and shows no signs at the moment of dropping to the lower benchmark set in the first half of the year.

Survey Methods

For the Gallup Poll Daily tracking survey, Gallup is interviewing no fewer than 1,000 U.S. adults nationwide each day during 2008. The "did you worry about money yesterday" results are asked of a random half sample of each day's interviews, and for any given 7-day rolling average of results, consisting of approximately 3,500 interviews, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Results of the "Did you worry about money yesterday" question aggregated by day of week are based on approximately 21,500 interviews per weekday. For results based on this sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 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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