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Survey: US families face economic challenges amid political differences

By YIFAN XU in Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-10-13 11:00

American families are facing increasing economic challenges, which are filtering through the nation's political life.

The findings of the American Family Survey 2022 were discussed at an Oct 4 webinar hosted by the Brookings Institution. The nationwide study of 3,000 Americans was conducted by the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.

According to the center's director, Christopher Karpowitz, most of this year's respondents agreed that economic difficulties, especially inflation, are among the main challenges the US families are facing. 

"Nearly 9 in 10 Americans say that inflation will affect their family finances in the coming year, and more than half say that they're very worried about this. More than half also think that their incomes are likely to fall behind prices in the coming year or two," said Karpowitz. 

"And more than 80 percent say they've seen important increases in the cost of food and transportation … 6 in 10 say that those increases have been large." 

Inflation in the US for most of the year has been in the 8-9 percent range, the highest level in four decades. 

Karpowitz said that "more Americans are saying that they have experienced economic crises", saying there is "increasing concern and increasing reports of economic crises, and those increases are occurring across the income spectrum at roughly equal rates".

Jeremy Pope, the center's co-director, said that the US had experienced an unstable era during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now entering "an era of fairly dramatic inflation".  

"I think it simply cannot be underplayed how important inflation is going to be in the next few years unless it abates more quickly than most economists that I read are telling me that it's going to," said Pope. 

Karpowitz added that "relative to the first two years of the pandemic, more Americans say they're struggling with balance, work-life balance in their lives," saying that it may be related to "going back to the office".  

Democrats tend to see economic challenges as the most significant cause of pessimism, while Republicans believe that preserving family structure is more important. It is one example of a sharp divide on many issues facing Americans today, according to the eighth edition of the survey.

"We are going to see sort of big differences in a gap opening up between the parties. What I wonder about as a possibility is that you're going to see gaps opening inside of the parties that are difficult for the parties to talk about," said Pope.

According to the study's findings, about a third of Americans blame the Biden administration and its policies for inflation, the highest percentage for any of the options. 

Just over a quarter blame disruptions to the global supply chain related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Politically, 44 percent of Democrats selected disruptions to supply chains as the main cause of rising inflation, whereas Republicans blamed those disruptions 8 percent of the time. Seventy percent of Republicans blamed the policies of the Biden administration.

Despite political divergences, there was some common ground.

Two-thirds of respondents agreed on the importance of teaching about racial equality in schools. 

Eighty-six percent surveyed favored some degree of access and some degree of regulation of abortion.

On abortion, "Partisan differences matter greatly: a plurality of Republicans favor abortion access ending sometime in the first trimester, while a plurality of Democrats favor extending access through the second trimester," the survey stated.

The survey found that many American parents were concerned about what schools are teaching about issues such as gender identity, and many would prefer to handle teaching those issues at home, "a solution that is likely to be at odds with the preferences of liberal activists who want schools to send stronger messages about gender equality".

"In political parties, each extreme has played a bigger role within the party than it does in the nation as a whole … the primary system itself exacerbates the extremes, even though the public is, in fact, very few of them are at either extreme," said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in the governance studies program at Brookings.

Pope said that "as we come out of COVID, people being very worried about inflation, people facing more crises, and we think that is likely to just get more and more complicated".

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