The sense of optimism coming out of the pandemic has all but deflated as a looming recession has Americans taking stock of their financial situation and wondering how they’ll be faring in just a few months.
The Monmouth University Polling Institute found 42% of Americans say they’re struggling to remain where they are financially, according to a new poll released on Tuesday. The institute conducted the survey between June 23 and 27 using a national random sample of approximately 1,000 people over the age of 18.
That number is the highest it’s been since the institute began asking the question five years ago. Previously, it had hovered between 20% and 29%, and in the past year alone it’s up 18%, as widespread access to COVID vaccines allowed pandemic-era restrictions on the economy to lift, sparking hope that a full recovery was imminent.
The poll also includes a breakdown of causes for financial insecurity. An even higher percentage of respondents—48%—named either inflation or gas prices as their biggest concern. Other major financial stressors included the economy in general, which 9% of respondents named, and paying everyday bills, which 6% of respondents named.
“Economic concerns tend to rise to the top of the list of family concerns, as you might expect, but the singular impact of inflation is really hitting home right now,” said institute director Patrick Murray in a statement. “And most Americans are blaming Washington for their current pain.”
Inflation has continued to impact the American consumer for nearly a year, and is now at a four-decade high of 8.6% according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. High prices are hitting nearly every sector of the economy, per the BLS report.
Gas prices have proved particularly damaging to consumers this summer, with the cost sitting at a national average just below $5 per gallon and reaching over $7 per gallon in certain parts of the country.
Inflation began to emerge as a financial concern a year ago, when 5% of respondents in the institute’s poll named it as a pain point. That number grew to 14% in December 2021, and has since doubled in this week’s most recent poll.
Financial insecurity has immediate political implications, according to the poll. For the first time since the institute began to ask the question in 2013, a majority of respondents said that the federal government’s actions in the past six months have negatively impacted their family.
The poll also includes rating numbers for President Joe Biden, showing an approval rating of 36% and disapproval rating of 58%. A year ago, Biden’s approval rating was slightly higher than his disapproval rating, reflecting the past year’s changed economic outlook.
Inflation has so far proved to be resistant to federal efforts to combat it as unpredictable factors like supply-chain disruptions from the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continue to play into it. The Federal Reserve has already instituted several hikes to its baseline interest rate this year as it attempts to cool the economy. Its most recent hike, of 75 basis points, was its largest since 1994.
This week, W. Michael Blumenthal, Treasury secretary under President Jimmy Carter when the U.S. was combating 1970s “stagflation,” said that Biden should support the Fed in doing anything it can to get inflation under control, even if that means supporting higher interest rate hikes and potentially triggering a recession.
“[Biden] has to show the recognition to the public that inflation has lasting deleterious effects on the economy and that by trying to take half measures now, you merely prolong the pain of these effects,” he told the New York Times.
It’s currently unclear how Americans’ financial concerns ahead of an economic downturn will play into their voting patterns during this year’s midterm elections, with respondents to the institute’s poll split over what party they want to see in control of Congress.
“The state of the economy has Americans in a foul mood. They are not happy with Washington,” said Murray. “However, that has not changed the overall picture of whom they want in control of Congress. The question is who actually shows up to vote in the fall.”