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Poll: Gas Prices Cause Hardship

Many Americans are curbing vacation plans and saving less, among other things

The high cost of gasoline has forced most Americans to change the way they live in some way, from curtailing vacation plans to spending less in other areas, according to an AARP Bulletin survey.

See also: Products that promise to improve gas mileage.

With the national average for regular gas hovering at just under $4 per gallon, more than half (58 percent) of the 1,012 people age 18 and older polled in May say that soaring gas prices have caused financial hardship. Those age 50 and older seemed to be suffering a bit less (55 percent) than their younger counterparts (60 percent).

A similar poll taken in June 2007 found that 54 percent of respondents said the cost of gas was a financial hardship. At the time, gas prices had reached $3.11, as reported by the Lundberg survey, an oil industry analyst group.

In the latest survey, 68 percent say they believe gas will reach $5 a gallon for regular unleaded; in 2007, 63 percent said that prices would reach $4 a gallon.

More than one in four (28 percent) says that gas prices have caused severe financial hardship. Of those, 31 percent were under age 50 and 23 percent were 50-plus. In 2007, 21 percent of respondents of all ages said affording gas prices proved to be a severe hardship.

Among Hispanics, severe financial hardship was reported by 29 percent of all age groups.

Many of those polled say they have taken measures to adjust to the spike in gas prices — 66 percent say they've limited their daily driving and 60 percent modified their vacation or travel plans (compared with 59 percent and 53 percent, respectively, in 2007). The figures were slightly higher among Hispanic respondents: 70 percent say they've adjusted their travel plans and 67 percent say they drive less.

Public transportation has become a viable alternative to driving, particularly among people under age 50 (24 percent, versus 11 percent for age 50-plus). Younger people also walked more than older people (45 percent versus 32 percent) in order to use the car less. In 2007, 26 percent of all ages said they walked more and 13 percent said they used public transit as an alternative.

Hispanics hit the sidewalk even more: 61 percent of younger counterparts took to the street compared with 53 percent of those 50 and up.

Maureen Morgan, a 67-year-old retiree from Homer, N.Y., about 30 miles from Syracuse, says she's driving to the store once a week instead of her usual three times a week for groceries and other goods. The self-described Democrat says it's time for the Obama administration to "do something" before gas prices spike even higher.

"At nearly $5 a gallon, you don't go on vacation and you go to the store en route," she says. "You don't make a special trip."

The poll also found that among all ages, 59 percent say they cut spending in other areas to offset higher gas prices. But younger people (63 percent) were more likely to cut back than those 50-plus (53 percent), the poll found. In 2007, 52 percent of those polled said the same.

To afford higher gas prices, more than half of the respondents (54 percent) say they reduced the amount of money they save. Once again, those under age 50 (58 percent) were more apt to do that than older folks (49 percent). Of those polled in 2007, 45 percent said the same.

Similarly, 51 percent said they made fewer visits with family and friends, compared with 45 percent in 2007, to save on gas. Those under 50 seemed more affected than older individuals (55 percent versus 46 percent), the poll showed. Among Hispanics, 68 percent curbed their visits with relatives and friends.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.