Attitude Check: The American Standard of Living

Revelers wear festive hats and glasses about two hours before midnight during the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square December 31, 2007 in New York. How do Americans feel they are doing compared to this time four years ago?

Steve Chiotakis: Time once again for Attitude Check, as we take America's temperature. This morning we found out President Obama and the Democratic party raised $68 million toward the president's re-election campaign in the last three months of 2011. While presidential campaigns are upbeat about their finances these days, we check in today about how Americans are feeling about theirs.

Frank Newport is editor-in-chief at the polling firm Gallup and he's with us now. Hey Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Chiotakis: You know as Americans go to the polls, the question I think is being asked these days is: do people feel better today more than they did four years ago? How do they feel about that? What about the standard of living question?

Newport: You know, that's a great question, and that's going to change as the year goes on. Because the bottom fell out as 2008 went on, but at the beginning of the year -- back in January of '08 -- Americans were still fairly positive about their standard of living.

And if you just look at where we are today, we are back to exactly that point. So you would say, today we are where we were in January. But boy, by October of '08, we only had 40 percent of Americans who said their standard of living was getting better, and it even went down to 32 percent.

So as the year progresses, the comparisons are going to look better and better now, because we have finally climbed back up to the point where we were when we started out.

Chiotakis: I want to talk a little bit about the standard of living, or quality of life issues. What do we include in those issues in those categories?

Newport: The question, of course, just says "standard of living" -- so we let Americans kind of evaluate that as they would. But we know from a lot of different research that Americans do take into account health care, their overall income, and their family life -- things along those lines. And Americans generally speaking, now in particular, are fairly positive about how those things are going.

Chiotakis: I know, Frank, they also talk about gas prices when they mention standard of living. And you know, there's a lot of instability going on in the Arab world right now, especially with tensions between the U.S. and Iran. How's that going at the moment?

Newport: We just got through asking Americans: what's the most important problem facing the country? That's where we typically would see it. Only 1 percent told us that the big problem was oil and gas prices -- and of course, that's been much higher historically.

So, so far, we're not seeing that Americans are concerned about the price of gas. We'll monitor it, but it's not crept into the consciousness of average Jane and John Doe yet, out there across the country.

Chiotakis: Frank Newport, editor-in-chief over at Gallup. Frank, thanks.

Newport: You bet.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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