More than half of Americans say record-high gasoline prices are causing them financial hardship, and three in 10 say it is a "serious" hardship, up significantly in the last few years and a potential hazard to broader consumer confidence.
In a new ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll, 54 percent say recent price increases in gasoline have caused financial hardship in their households — about as many as said so two years ago.
But the difficulty is now deeper: 31 percent say they are experiencing "serious" hardship, up from 20 percent in spring 2002, and 17 percent in 2001.
An Energy Department survey says pump prices now average $1.81 a gallon — an all-time high, up 22 percent in just the last four months. No respite is in the offing; the department reports that "conditions are likely to remain volatile through the summer."
Surging Food Prices
And gasoline prices aren't the only prices rising. Food prices are surging: Over the past 12 months, eggs are up 33 percent, beef's up 13 percent, chocolate's at a 17-year high, and — just in time for summer — ice-cream prices are expected to be 20 percent to 30 percent higher.
The Labor Department today reported that the Producer Price Index was up 0.5 percent in March, including a 1.5 percent rise in food prices, the biggest increase since October.
Americans' overall economic concerns have eased somewhat in recent months, and, though still weak, consumer confidence has improved from its recent lows. But rising gas prices are a threat: The public's buying intentions, a component of consumer confidence, have been sensitive to high pump prices in the past.
Indeed in an ABCNEWS/Money magazine poll this week, just 36 percent call it a good time to buy things, three points below average and down seven points since February.
Feeling the Pinch
Lower-income households are feeling the biggest pinch from gas prices. Seventy-one percent of those with household earnings less than $20,000 say these rising prices are hurting them; 56 percent seriously.
By contrast just 32 percent in six-figure-income households say they're experiencing hardship, one in 10 seriously.
Women and minorities are also hit harder. About six in 10 women and two in three non-whites said they're being hurt by the pump prices; that compares with about half of men and whites.
People who say the gas price increases are causing them financial hardship support John Kerry over President Bush, by 52 percent-35 percent; those who say they are experiencing "serious" hardship back Kerry by 58 percent-25 percent (with 12 percent for Ralph Nader).
That's probably not a direct effect of gasoline prices, but rather a reflection of the fact that gas prices hit hardest in more Democratic groups, such as women, minorities and people in lower-income households.
Indeed, 66 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents say the gas price increases are hurting them, but just 37 percent of Republicans say the same.
This ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone April 15-18, among a random national sample of 1,201 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation was done by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
See previous analyses, full questionnaire and details of the poll's methodology in our Poll Vault.