- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A majority of Americans say they have had to raid their life savings to meet the rising costs of food and gasoline — a trend that continued Monday with crude oil prices hitting another record high.

A Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports survey released Tuesday found that 57 percent of adults said they dipped into their savings because of increasing fuel and grocery prices, as consumers take a harder look at fuel efficiency ratings and cut back on nights on the town.

The drain underscores widespread economic pain caused by runaway gas prices, which have become the dominant issue in the presidential race and in Congress. But neither Democrats’ call for more spending on alternative energy research nor Republicans’ push for more domestic oil drilling promises the short-term price relief voters desire.

The parties’ opposing approaches to energy policy have produced a stalemate in Congress as both sides trade blame for record-breaking prices, further delaying the benefits of either strategy.

“In the short term, [gas prices] are putting people in a position where they are uncomfortable,” said Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports. “It brings it home and makes it a campaign issue.”

He said consumers will adjust to the higher fuel costs, which are up more than $1 from a year ago, as long as the price levels off. “They will not be happy, but they will adjust,” he said.

About 38 percent said they have not had to spend from their savings, and 5 percent were not sure, according to the national telephone survey of 1,000 adults conducted last week.

The national average price of regular unleaded rose slightly Monday to $4.086 per gallon, according to AAA. In trading, light sweet crude oil topped $143 a barrel before dropping back to $140.

Consumers do not expect the fuel pinch to relent any time soon, according to an Associated Press/Yahoo News poll released Monday. That poll found that nine in 10 Americans expect higher fuel prices to hurt them financially in the next six months, with nearly half saying it will cause serious hardship.

The AP poll tracked 2,000 people since the fall, and found that the high price of gas has become a personal issue.

“We just don’t do as much,” William Fisk, 39, a former dishwasher in Freeport, Maine, told AP. “We used to go out to have dinner, but we’re cutting way back on that.”

Families with lower incomes told the survey that they are cutting back vacation plans and reducing their use of air conditioning.

“You’re saddened prices are going up, and you can’t do the extra things you would have done,” said Amy Pysarenko, 35, of San Antonio, whose concern about gas prices has grown since November. She told AP her family has cut back on amusement park visits and savings for their children, but “I feel fortunate because maybe someone else eats beans instead of hamburgers.”

Expensive gas has made Americans consider buying more fuel-efficient vehicles, with 34 percent saying they are very likely and 19 percent saying they are somewhat likely to buy cars with better mileage, The Times poll showed.

Nearly half of Americans - 48 percent - said lower gas prices would do more to reinvigorate the economy than tax cuts or another economic stimulus package. About 19 percent favored tax cuts and 18 percent picked a stimulus package.

The Times poll showed that blacks, young adults and low-income workers were hardest hit by higher costs of fuel and food.

A whopping 70 percent of blacks said they dipped into savings to offset the rising prices, compared with 55 percent of whites. About 70 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 had to hit their savings, as did 75 percent of workers earning less than $20,000 a year, the poll showed.

The poll’s margin of error was three percentage points.

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