Americans’ Ability To Afford Basic Necessities Is Near Record Low

Americans are as unlikely to have access to basic necessities such as food, housing, and healthcare as they were in October 2011, when it was at the lowest point recorded. Gallup’s Basic Access Index, which includes 13 questions on the ability to afford basic needs, was 81.4 in August, “on part with the all-time low of 81.2 recorded in October 2011,” the report notes. The index has yet to recover to its pre-recession level of at least 83.

The number of Americans struggling to afford food is also near record highs. Twenty percent said that they have at times lacked the money to buy the food that they or their families needed during the past year, up from 17.7 percent in June and close to the post-recession peak of 20.4 percent. It’s at the highest level since October 2011.

Those numbers reinforce just how many Americans are struggling to get by. One in seven families faced food insecurity last year. Three out of four Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and a quarter have no savings at all. Wages have fallen by eight cents since the recession, but the problem goes back further, as workers have experienced a “lost decade” in wage growth. Yet the costs of living have grown substantially over the past 20 years.

The wealthy, however, are doing just fine. While top earners took a bit hit during the recession, the top 1 percent saw income increase by 20 percent last year, bringing their earnings close to full recovery while the bottom 99 percent have barely started to recover. In fact, the top 10 percent took home half of all income, the biggest share ever recorded.