How Come Everyone is So Poor?

Mike Weisser
3 min readMay 31

Last week yet another public opinion survey reported that only 24% of Americans believe the economy to be in good shape, a number which is down from 30% the previous month. This survey was conducted by NORC, a polling company which is much more respected than the polling outfits hired by the political parties who usually just tell their clients whatever they want to hear.

Maybe I’m just so far removed from the reality of daily life that my understanding about current affairs is totally and completely out of whack, but I don’t remember a time when everyone had a job, that unskilled jobs were paying a lot more than minimum wage, and that the parking lot in front of every shopping mall is completely packed.

There is also endless talk about the high rate of inflation continues to take its toll on everyday life, with only 73% of respondents to a Federal Reserve survey saying that they are doing okay, which is the lowest number claiming to be living comfortably since 2016.

If one out of every four Americans find themselves living less comfortably than they would like to live, no wonder why a large majority of the country’s population believes that the economy isn’t behaving the way it should.

But any time we try to understand why people feel their financial expectations aren’t being met, we also need to understand the degree to which their expectations can be framed in realistic terms. This task is made more explicable with reference to data from the government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) which tracks how much we spend each month broken down into specific product and service categories.

In April 2023, Americans spent $18.2 billion, of which $2.2 billion went for durable goods like cars, $529 million on household furniture and furnishings, $652 million on recreational durables like televisions and video/audio equipment and $295 million on jewelry, watches, and eyeglasses. We also spent $3.847 billion on food and beverages, including $188 million for wine, liquor, and beer. Clothing was another $489 million, gasoline and other energy cost us $449 million, and all other nondurable goods were $1.5 billion, including $100 million for non-prescription drugs, 98 million for pets, $185 million for personal care products, $102 million for tobacco and $95 million for newspapers…