Business Week recently Published an article, "Are Americans as Poor as They Feel." The article goes on to show that the relative cost of consumer goods has really not significantly outpaced the increase in household income (sadly, however, many households are forced to have 2 wage earners). Many consumer goods cost significantly less with regard to inflation and rising prices than they did in 1980. The two big factors that have increased are education (due to fewer public dollars and greater demand) and health care (caring for people living decades longer). In the end, we have a few less real dollars, but it's not as big of a discrepancy as many feel. Venessa Wong writes,
The consumer price index—which includes food and beverage, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education, communication, and other goods and services—grew nearly 160.4 percent, to 214.537, from 1980 to 2009, according to BLS data. In the same period, median household income in nominal dollars increased 181 percent, to $49,777, U.S. Census Bureau data show, or 8 percent in real dollars. BLS data indicate that while high-income earners saw the biggest increase in that period, average income rose for middle-income earners too.
The article is written without bias, but does mention a major cause of people feeling economic strain is the American drive for bigger houses, more cars, and more forms of entertainment (vacations, the internet, cable TV, etc.).
It makes me think of Jesus warning us that it's possible to gain the whole world and still lose our souls. Maybe if we spent less money and time trying to satisfy all of our pleasures here on earth, we wouldn't feel as poor and despondent as the surveys purport. And just maybe if we believed what St. Augustine taught us over 1000 years ago, we would find a measure of peace that cannot be bought with a bigger paycheck:"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."