CBS News Poll Shows Americans Feel Inflation's Impact on Living Standards, Opportunities

The impact of inflation may even go beyond the immediate pressure on Americans’ wallets, but rather a sense that it is stifling opportunity in America and a deeper sense that the country’s economic problems have been worse overall in recent years others it has faced in generations.

Even in the face of better labor market reports and economists’ talk of “soft landings,” people say they still pay more attention to their own experiences than to macroeconomic policies – and an overwhelming majority say their incomes aren’t keeping up.

These days, more people say their standard of living is worse, not better, than their parents’, and it’s the age group that includes many millennials and the generation that feels that runs counter to the traditional idea of ​​the American dream.

It has been four decades since Americans have experienced inflation like we have seen in recent years. When asked to put current problems in context, Americans say the economic difficulties resulting from the pandemic are the worst in several generations, even worse than the crash and Great Recession of 2008-2009 , i.e. other recession periods in the 90s and 80s, more so than the inflation and gas shortages of the 1970s.

Today will certainly be fresher and bring some freshness here, but it underscores the fact that many adults have never experienced this kind of inflation. (And for those over 65 who were adults in the 1970s, the country’s more recent troubles also stand out.)

The “separation” between micro and macro?

For months, the country’s traditional “macro” numbers such as job growth and employment, GDP and even the inflation rate have often shown signs of strength or improvement.

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So we asked directly what they pay attention to – and people say they pay more attention to personal experiences than economic numbers like this.

And while the job market may be strong, an overwhelming three-quarters feel their income is not keeping up with inflation.

There is a feeling that opportunities are only increasing for the rich and not for the middle class. Overall, Americans have expressed skepticism about unequal opportunities for a while, but today the broader notion that “everyone has a chance to get ahead” has faded compared to before the pandemic.

So what can we do?

Further interest rate hikes are not a universally popular idea for controlling inflation – they are particularly unpopular among people in the lowest income brackets.

Americans are also unwilling to see a rise in unemployment (perhaps a result of higher interest rates) if it would mean curbing inflation.

In the late 1970s, when the country was facing high inflation, the CBS News poll asked about the idea of ​​government price controls. So we’ve now asked a similar question – and found that most would support the (very hypothetical) idea.

A large number of Democrats support price controls, and although the party is publicly associated with a more free-market approach, more than half of Republicans also support it.

What does this mean for the White House?

Most Americans believe that a president can control inflation.

To a certain extent, many people thought so when similar questions were asked in the 1970s and 1980s. Given the complexity of the global economy – and the fact that people understand multiple reasons for inflation – they may or may not accurately assess the power of the office. Either way, as long as inflation is high, this could be a reason why President Biden continues to get poor marks for his handling of it.

People don’t blame themselves for inflation in the form of “higher consumer demand.” Their main causes lie further afield, namely international factors, suspicion of excessive corporate prices and government spending.

Inflation remains the main reason people say they feel the economy is bad when in fact they do. Overall, views on the economy are still broadly negative (though much of this is also due to partisanship) and are closer to levels seen this spring than this fall. The pattern this year was that the “poor” number hovered in the low to mid 60s; may reflect some ongoing uncertainty about the overall outlook.

Biden’s handling of inflation still faces widespread opposition, and Americans are still more inclined to believe that his administration’s actions have caused inflation to increase, not decrease.

The Biden administration often boasts about its legislative record on the economy, but Americans’ assessments of things like the Build Back Better Act and the Inflation Reduction Act are mixed. Many, including in the president’s party, say they haven’t heard enough from them, at least not by name.

This CBS News/YouGov poll was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,144 U.S. adults surveyed between December 6 and December 8, 2023. The sample was based on the US Census American Community Survey and weighted by gender, age, race and education, as well as current population survey and past voting. The margin of error is ±2.8 points.

In the 1979 and 2017 CBS News survey, interviews with respondents were conducted by telephone using RDD samples. The most important problem item from 1979 was coded from open answers.

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