The fastest inflation in decades is contributing to Americans’ dour view of the U.S. economy.
Nearly nine in 10 adults say they are at least somewhat concerned about inflation, according to a survey conducted this month for The New York Times by the online research firm Momentive. Worry about rising prices cut across generational, racial and partisan lines — 85 percent of Democrats and 96 percent of Republicans said they were concerned.
The survey was conducted Feb. 1-7, before the tensions over Ukraine and the Russian invasion there led to a jump in energy prices.
Fear of inflation is weighing on people’s view of their own finances and the economy overall. About 75 percent of respondents rated the economy as fair or poor, and only 28 percent said they expected their own finances to be better off a year from now, the lowest share in the five years Momentive has conducted the survey. Asked to identify the most important issue facing the country, dozens of respondents volunteered inflation, which wasn’t offered as an option.
The findings are consistent with other surveys that have shown a sharp decline in economic confidence in recent months. The University of Michigan’s long-running index of consumer sentiment fell to its lowest level in more than a decade in early February, with a third of respondents spontaneously citing inflation as a concern. The university will release final data for February on Friday.
“People just hate inflation,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute. “They hate inflation in a way that I just did not understand until last year.”
Consumers’ pessimism is striking because most indicators, other than inflation, show that the economy has made significant strides in recent months. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4 percent, and job growth was strong in January despite a jump in Covid-19 cases. Wages are rising at their fastest pace in years.
But only 14 percent of employed respondents in the Times survey said they had received a raise large enough to keep up with inflation, down from 33 percent in December. And people are becoming more skeptical that price increases will fade quickly: 76 percent of respondents said they were worried that inflation would “continue for an extended period,” up from 70 percent in December.