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Brief Published: 15 Jan 2020

Americans’ Biggest Economic Burdens

Extra
Americans now regard the cost of healthcare and higher education as two of the top issues facing the country

Supporting our recent Economic Inclusion report, two new studies reveal that the spiking cost of healthcare and education are fuelling American anxiety. Covering these expenses is weighing heavily on consumers, creating opportunities for brands to make non-discretionary needs more accessible.

  • The Healthcare Burden: Paying for medical treatment, even with insurance, has grown into an overriding concern. Two-thirds of Americans believe healthcare affordability is a very big problem in the US, making this the top-ranking issue cited in a Pew Research Center survey released this month.

    Paying for medical expenses has presented serious problems for 48% of middle-income and 57% of lower-income Americans in the past few years (NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health, 2020). The high cost of medication has also led 30% of lower-income and 23% of middle-income Americans to forego filling a prescription or to reduce dosage.

    Retailers including Walmart and Walgreens are launching low-cost health services to meet these needs, as outlined in Economic Inclusion and Medi-Retail, while start-ups like menopause-focused Gennev (see Midlife Women & Wellness) are harnessing telemedicine to scale affordable services.

  • College Costs Out of Reach: In its survey, Pew found that more Americans consider affording college a “very big” problem in the US (55%) compared to climate change (48%) or terrorism (39%). In the NPR study, 30% of middle-income and 33% of lower-income Americans said they’ve had serious problems paying for higher education in the recent past – even 12% of America’s top 1% of income earners cited it as a pain point.

    For businesses with large, low-wage workforces like Disney and Starbucks, covering tuition for employees is becoming a key recruitment and retention strategy, as discussed in Economic Inclusion.

Feeling financially squeezed as wage growth stagnates and costs increase, majorities of lower-income (58%) and middle-income (54%) Americans in the NPR study expressed anxiety about the future. Economic worries are now a primary driver of burnout – especially for millennials. For more on the strategies emerging to cope with this, as well as ways for brands to act as allies, see Beyond Burnout: Managing Millennial Stress.

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