According to a new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, while only 4 percent of the top 1 percent highest income adults say they would struggle to pay off an unexpected $1,000 expense, 34 percent of middle-income adults and 67 percent of lower-income adults say they would have problems paying this amount.
In addition, while only 8 percent of adults with the top 1 percent highest incomes say their families have experienced serious problems paying for medical bills, dental bills, or prescription drugs in the past few years, nearly half of middle-income adults (48 percent) and a majority of lower-income adults (57 percent) say this.
View the complete poll findings.
Findings from this poll show stark income differences in both the ability to handle financial setbacks and quality of life. While 90 percent of adults in the top 1 percent highest income category say they are completely or very satisfied with their lives, fewer middle-income adults and lower-income adults say this, at 66 percent and 44 percent respectively. And when it comes to satisfaction in their personal financial situation, only 38 percent of middle-income adults and 20 percent of lower-income adults say they are completely or very satisfied, compared to 87 percent of the top 1 percent highest income adults.
There are also differences in reported anxiety among groups, as only 9 percent of the top 1 percent highest income adults say they are very anxious about their future, compared to 19 percent of middle-income adults and 29 percent of lower-income adults.
This poll, “Life Experiences and Income Inequality in the United States,” was conducted among a national sample of 1,885 adults living in the United States. The sample was stratified in four groups by household income: adults in the top 1 percent highest income households (earning at least $500,000 per year), adults in higher-income households (earning $100,000-499,999 per year), adults in middle-income households (earning $35,000-99,999 per year), and adults in lower-income households (earning less than $35,000 per year).
Due to the heterogeneity of incomes in the higher-income household category, analyses in this report focus on differences between the top 1 percent highest income compared to middle- and lower-income adults, though results are included for all four income groups.
“These findings reinforce national concerns about the impact of large-scale income inequality in the U.S. today,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Despite research showing several other factors such as family income, neighborhood, and race and/or ethnicity are closely tied to economic achievement, fewer than four in 10 adults across all income groups believe these factors are essential or very important to being economically successful in America today.
“It is simply unacceptable in a country as wealthy as ours that so many people lack sufficient income to pay for health care, housing or even food,” said RWJF President and CEO Rich Besser. “We need to address income inequality if we truly want everyone to have a fair and just opportunity to live the healthiest life possible.”