Mar 28, 2023 - Economy

Greed or need? Money unites polarized Americans

Illustration of the United States flag with the stars replaced by dollar signs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Call it greed, call it need — but money, it seems, is the one thing we can agree on.

Driving the news: 43% of Americans say money, as a value, is "very important" to them, up from 31% in 1998, according to a new Wall Street Journal-NORC poll.

  • When asked about their values, a higher percentage of Americans said money was very important to them than the share who said the same about patriotism, religion, having children and community involvement.
  • For example, only 27% said community involvement was very important to them, down from 47% in 1998.

Context: In an age of hyper polarization, people are becoming increasingly isolated — and the pandemic intensified their feeling of loneliness.

  • Trust in a slew of institutions — such as Congress, the presidency, the media, police, schools, organized religion, big tech and big business — is at or near all-time lows, according to Gallup polling data.

💭 Nathan's thought bubble: If people lose their sense of trust in each other and the organizations that govern their lives, it's natural for them to feel like they need to look out for themselves first.

  • "If you trust these institutions are going to be there if you need them, then your money is less critical," Josh Pasek, a University of Michigan professor of political science, communication and media, tells Axios.
  • But the pandemic powerfully disrupted our sense of community: "It severed a bunch of ties and in doing so, what you can rely on," Pasek said.

Meanwhile, Americans view the economy as unsteady — and in unsteady times, money becomes more important as a reliable foundation you can rest upon.

  • "Right now people are feeling squeezed," Pasek noted.

The bottom line: As our lives change, our philosophy about money changes, too.

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