WASHINGTON − Linda Muñoz is scared about the economy. She dipped into her emergency savings this year. And she doesn’t believe President Joe Biden feels her pain.
The retired teacher from Channelview, Texas, worries about paying $4 for cereal and $3.38 for gasoline in her state.
“According to him, everything’s perfect,” said Muñoz, a Republican. “He just doesn’t live in reality.”
As Biden tries to sell Americans on an economic rebound, most Americans aren’t buying it, according to an exclusive poll from the Suffolk University Sawyer Business School and USA TODAY that reveals major concerns about the state of the economy and little hope of people’s outlook improving. What’s worse for the incumbent president, Americans say they trust Donald Trump − not Biden − to fix it.
Groceries. Housing. Gas. All of these are pushing people further and further into debt, they say.
Nearly 70% of Americans said the economy is getting worse, according to the poll, while only 22% said the economy is improving. Eighty-four percent of Americans said their cost of living is rising, and nearly half of Americans, 49%, blamed food and grocery prices as the main driver.
“It’s getting harder to survive out there with the little bit of money that we do make,” said Casey Lafi, 43, a waitress at a diner in Philadelphia who lives with her husband, a veteran who is disabled, and a 15-year-old daughter.
Lafi, who voted for Biden in 2020, said her family’s food budget has skyrocketed from $800 to $1,500 a month. “Eggs are ridiculous,” she said, also singling out prices for fruit, vegetables and milk.
For months, Biden has touted “Bidenomics” to frame an economic agenda centered on the middle class. He has highlighted his efforts to expand domestic manufacturing, push through historic infrastructure spending and work with Democrats in Congress to cap the price of insulin and give Medicare the power to negotiate lower costs for prescription drugs.
The White House has tried to get credit for an unemployment rate that’s near a 50-year-low, a robust job market, including 13.5 million jobs added under the Biden presidency, and annual inflation that, according to the Consumer Price Index, is down to 3.7% from a 40-year high of 9.1% in June 2022.
Yet only 34% of Americans said they approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, compared with 59% who disapprove, according to the poll.
“Food prices are going up. The rental prices are sky-high. The fuel goes up and down like a yo-yo,” said Javier Torres, 65, of Pembroke Pines, Florida, who is unsure he will vote for Biden in 2024 like he did in 2020.
“It’s been pretty bad, and I was a supporter of Biden, so I don’t know what’s going on,” said Torres, who is married with three children and manages a warehouse and logistics company in South Florida. “Maybe it’s not all his fault − or it is? I don’t know. But something’s got to give.”
More Americans trust Trump than Biden on economy
The poll, a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by mobile and landline phones from Sept. 6 – 11, has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Interviews of poll respondents by USA TODAY underscored a nation deeply worried about the economic future.
Americans’ anxieties present a major challenge to Biden’s reelection bid. Although Democrats overcame similar concerns over inflation to exceed expectations in the 2022 midterm elections, the economy is typically a defining issue in presidential races.
More Americans said they trust Trump, the 2024 Republican primary front-runner, than Biden to improve the economy by a 47%-36% margin. The spread is 46%-26% in Trump’s favor among independent voters.
Nearly all Republicans surveyed expressed pessimism about the economy, according to the poll: 96% said it is getting worse, not better. But 76% of independents and even 34% of Democrats also said the economy is getting worse.
“Things are more precarious than they’ve ever been, at least in my lifetime,” said Roshaun Harris, 38, a social justice and environmental activist from Detroit whose rent for his townhome has nearly doubled from $900 to $1,650 a month.
A disconnect between ‘Bidenomics’ and Americans’ economic fears
Directly below food prices as the main financial toll on families, 16% of Americans said housing costs are the biggest contributor to their rising costs of living, followed by utility bills and gas prices, each cited by 11% of Americans.
The poll’s findings expose a major disconnect between the way Biden describes the economy and how a majority of Americans feel about it.
“We’re replacing trickle-down economics with what everyone on Wall Street is referring to these days as ‘Bidenomics,'” Biden said in remarks on Labor Day in Philadelphia. “And guess what? It’s working.”
But 74% of Americans described the economy negatively in one word − either “horrible/terrible,” “bad/poor,” “struggling” or “chaotic” − compared with 18% who said the economy is “excellent/good” or “growing/improving.” Another 4% said the economy is “fair/average.”
Dan McKinnon, of Ludington, Michigan, who owns an assisted living and home care company, said recent pay increases he has awarded his 50 employees have failed to keep up with their cost of living.
“With the cost of housing and food and everything, they just can’t make it,” McKinnon said, describing a “suffocating” economy for his workers and seniors who are having trouble affording his services.
Jared Bernstein, chair of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers in the Biden administration, defended the president’s economic record by pointing to Americans’ overwhelming support, according to polling, for capping insulin prices, lowering prescription drug prices and providing tax incentives to create manufacturing jobs.
“These are the components of Bidenomics,” Bernstein said in an interview this month on “Fox News Sunday.” “So when someone tells you Americans don’t like Bidenomics, it’s false. Americans approve of the components above 80%.”
Americans say they’re cutting back
But Biden’s policies haven’t erased economic fears, and Americans say they have changed their spending habits. Seventy-one percent of poll respondents said they are eating out less; 68% said they are cutting back spending on clothes; 53% said they are spending less on groceries; and 57% said they are putting off home improvements.
Bobbie McGee, a self-employed sign language interpreter from Auburn, Washington, counts herself lucky that the rent on the home she shares with her husband and two dogs has been stable.
Still, she has adjusted her spending, especially on food. McGee, 70, said she looks for what’s on sale and buys in bulk.
And because she travels for work, McGee keeps a close eye on the price of gas. She’s not traveling as far as she used to. The only jobs she takes that require long drives are from a company willing to pay for her travel time instead of just mileage.
Low-income families earning less than $50,000 a year were significantly more likely to say they plan to cut back than earners of more than $100,000.
“We have all these government statistics pointing to a different story than what people are telling us and the polling,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, who led the poll. “It’s vastly different and it poses an immense challenge to Biden as president.”
But Garry Hurley Jr., a software developer from New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, puts more blame on Republicans for his economic struggles.
Hurley, who is still paying off student loans, had been looking forward to having $20,000 of his debt erased by Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan. But the Supreme Court’s conservative majority blocked the plan, which was challenged by six conservative states and two individual borrowers.
“It’s putting a crimp in my bank account to try and support my family with also paying the student loans and my mortgage payment and everything else,” he said.
The economy would be better, the Democrat said, “if Republicans kept their nose out of my wallet.”
But Brian Oestrick, a truck driver from Knoxville, Tennessee, who believes the economy would be better if Trump were still president, doesn’t see any signs of improvement.
“It’s going to get a lot worse,” he said, “before it gets better.”
Reach Joey Garrison on X @joeygarrison and Maureen Groppe @mgroppe.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden is selling an improving economy. Americans don’t buy it