Nearly 4 in 10 Americans say family finances have suffered in the last year Rising inflation has meant fewer restaurant meals, getaways and even doctor visits for many Americans, as nearly 4 in 10 say their family finances have gotten worse in the last year.

Americans are paying more and getting less as inflation hits home

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Americans are not feeling great about their economic situations. Nearly 4 out of 10 people surveyed for a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll say their family's finances have gotten worse over the last year. Rising prices are forcing many people to cut back on spending or to dip into their savings. NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: For Susan Morrison, one sign of what's wrong with the economy is in the dairy case.

SUSAN MORRISON: OK, like, cottage cheese - I bought cottage cheese, and I had an old one in the refrigerator. And I went to put the new one in. I was like, wait a minute. This is, like, two-thirds of the size. There's a third missing.

HORSLEY: And it's not just a shrinking cottage cheese container that's curdling Morrison's confidence. She and her husband are both retired in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and they've watched the falling stock market eat away at their savings. Meanwhile, grocery bills have jumped more than 13% in the last year.

MORRISON: You know, we're seniors. It's not like we're eating huge meals. There's nobody but the two of us. But we have noticed that our grocery bill over just the last two years - we've watched it go up and up and up.

HORSLEY: With soaring prices throughout the economy, nearly 3 out of 4 people who answered our poll say they've had to cut back on spending in the last six months. Morrison used to drive to Simi Valley every week to volunteer at a senior center. Now she goes every other week to save on gasoline. She and her husband have also cut back on traveling.

MORRISON: We love to vacation in our motor home, but we have not gone anywhere at all this year because of the cost of diesel.

HORSLEY: Diesel prices have come down from their record high in June. But the fuel is still averaging nearly $5 a gallon. As with many issues, attitudes about the economy are shaped in part by politics. Republicans, like Morrison, are nearly four times as likely as Democrats to say their financial situation has worsened in the last year. But attitudes have deteriorated across the political spectrum.

CRAIG BARNES: I mean, when you try to buy a steak, for Christ's sake...

HORSLEY: Craig Barns is an energy broker in Plano, Texas.

BARNES: In my business, you know, when I'm taking people out and stuff like that, you know, we're not going to steakhouses anymore. We're not going to any of that kind of stuff. We're dialing it down big time.

HORSLEY: More than half the people surveyed say they're eating out less now than they were six months ago. To be sure, some of the reported spending cuts may be exaggerated. The Commerce Department says actual spending at restaurants is up nearly 7% over the last six months. But there's no question many people feel as though they're having to tighten their belts. Lavender Justice is a pizza delivery driver in suburban Atlanta and says tips this summer are way down.

LAVENDER JUSTICE: People are struggling. It's kind of tragic. Even on Fridays and Saturdays, I've been making probably only 75% of what I was about a year ago.

HORSLEY: As a result, Justice has also had to scale back on favorite hobbies, like costumed camping. Missing a rent or mortgage payment, which would be a more serious sign of distress, is still relatively rare. But among families at the bottom of the income ladder, nearly 1 in 4 has felt that kind of housing hardship.

CONNOR SLATEN: I had to be late on rent this month and probably going to have to figure something out for this coming payment, as well.

HORSLEY: Conner Slaten works at a KFC in Kansas City. He was recently promoted to shift manager and got a pay raise to $14 an hour. But that's not enough, he says, to keep up with the rising cost of living.

SLATEN: I don't think there's anywhere in America where 14 an hour can adequately pay for a one-bedroom apartment and everything else that you need.

HORSLEY: Some people think it'll take political change in Washington to improve their economic outlook. Others, like Justice, see newly empowered workers as the answer.

JUSTICE: There's more people quitting jobs that aren't treating them well. That gives me a lot of hope because if enough people quit jobs that aren't treating them well, they'll have to start treating people better and have to start paying people what they're worth.

HORSLEY: Justice hopes to get out of the pizza delivery business and start a new job this fall. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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