Over the past two months, Gallup has been asking Americans to name "the most important financial problem facing your family today." Overall, the top financial problems facing American families today include healthcare costs and lack of money or low wages. Americans also mention the level of debt, unemployment, college expenses, retirement savings, and the high cost of living or inflation.
However, aggregated results from surveys in January and February reveal that not all American families have the same financial problems -- there are some interesting differences among different groups of people.
Money, Wages Top Problem for Blacks, Health Costs for Whites
Money, wages, paying off debt, and healthcare costs are the important financial problems for both whites and blacks, but blacks are much more likely than whites to mention lack of money or low wages as the top problem.
One in four blacks (26%) say lack of money or low wages is the most important financial problem facing their families today. Not having enough money to pay debts, at 18%, and healthcare costs, at 10%, follow.
Among whites, healthcare costs top the list (at 15%), followed by lack of money or wages (11%), debt (9%), unemployment (8%), and college expenses (8%).
College, Debt Top Problem for Younger Americans, Health Costs for Older Americans
Healthcare costs become a greater concern to Americans as they age. Younger adults mention paying for college and paying off debts most frequently.
- 18- to 29-year-olds. The top financial
problems for younger Americans include not having enough money to
pay debts (14%), lacking money or having low wages (13%), being
unemployed (10%), and paying for college (10%).
- 30- to 49-year-olds. Among Americans in this
age group, money and wages (14%), paying off debts (13%),
healthcare costs (13%), and college expenses (10%) are top
- 50- to 64-year-olds. Healthcare costs,
at 19%, are the top financial problem for Americans aged 50 to
64, followed by money and wages (14%) and retirement savings (12%).
More Americans in this age group mention retirement savings as the
top financial problem than in any other age group.
- 65 years and older. The most important financial problem for older Americans is healthcare costs, mentioned by 18% of respondents aged 65 and older. Lack of money and Social Security follow, each mentioned by 9% of Americans in this age group. Those aged 65 and older more often cite Social Security as the top problem than do younger Americans. They also are the most likely age group to not mention any problem.
Day-to-Day Expenses Problem for Lower-Income Households
Household income affects views on the top financial problem facing Americans today. Higher-income households are slightly more likely than lower-income households to mention college expenses and retirement savings, while lower-income households more frequently mention lack of money or low wages and healthcare costs.
- Those earning less than $30,000 per year are most likely to say lack of money and low wages is the top financial problem, mentioned by 21% of respondents, followed by healthcare costs (16%), unemployment (13%), and paying off debts (11%).
- For households earning between $30,000 and $50,000 per year, healthcare costs (14%), lack of money (14%), and paying off debts (13%) are the salient issues.
- The most important financial problems for those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 per year are essentially the same as those earning between $75,000 and $100,000 per year: healthcare costs, college expenses, lack of money or low wages, paying off debts, and retirement savings.
- Among those earning between $75,000 and $100,000 per year, the top problems are healthcare costs (19%), college expenses (12%), retirement savings (9%), money or wages (9%), and not having enough money to pay off debts (9%).
- College expenses (15%), retirement savings (12%), and healthcare costs (9%) are the most important financial problems for those earning $100,000 per year or more.
Democrats More Likely Than Republicans to Say Money, Wages, Unemployment
The data show some slight variations by partisanship, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to say lack of money and unemployment are the top financial problems and Republicans more likely to not name any financial problems. These differences may result from Republicans being generally more likely to live in higher-income households than Democrats.
Among Republicans, the most important financial problems are healthcare costs (13%), college expenses (10%), money and wages (9%), and paying off debts (9%). Twenty-three percent of Republicans do not name any top financial problem in their families, compared with 20% of independents and 15% of Democrats.
Healthcare costs, lack of money and low wages, paying off debts, and unemployment are the top financial problems facing Democrats' families. Fourteen percent of Democrats say the top problem is lack of money and wages, while only 9% of Republicans mention this. Democrats are just slightly more likely than Republicans to say unemployment is the top problem, by a four-point margin.
Independents most frequently mention healthcare costs, lack of money or low wages, and paying down debts as their families' top financial problems.
Few Differences Between Men and Women
The results show few differences by gender; the most important financial problems for both groups are healthcare costs, lack of money, and paying off debts.
*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 2,008 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 17-19, 2005, and Feb. 25-27, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points.
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.