What Do Consumers Care About in 2015?

It’s autumn. Leaves are changing colors and the nights are cooler. There’s a crispness in the weekend air as football returns and major league baseball teams try to make it to the World Series. There’s a certain excitement as kids go back to school, make new friends, and Halloween approaches.

While times are good and appear to be getting better, still consumers have some strong concerns that politicians and policymakers need to address. Here are the top five concerns based on a recent survey of 1,045 members of the American Consumer Council.

1. More Jobs. This continues to be the number one concern for consumers. More than 68% of consumers says they want to see greater job creation and have the opportunity to advance in their chosen field. The percentage is even higher (77%) for those respondents under 35 years of age.

2. Wage Growth. Over 64% of consumers feel their wages have been sluggish and not kept pace with the cost of living. Consumers want to see a substantial increase in the minimum wage (61%) and they want companies to expand family benefits, especially for new mothers and fathers, and caring for their aging parents (59%).

3. Debt Relief. There is a growing concern among many consumers that a college education will soon be unaffordable. More than 57% of consumers responded by saying the burden of college tuition is “breaking the family bank.” Several presidential candidates have taken up the cry for “free college tuition” and it appears that consumers will support those candidates who appeal to their pocketbook issues.

The second part of the Debt Relief issue is the concern of consumers over their home mortgages. A significant number of consumers-homeowners (38%) told us they are still “upside down” in their mortgage debt-to-market value ratio. This has been a nagging problem since the Great Recession of 2008 and exacerbated by the deceit and dishonesty of Wall Street banks and brokers. Many consumers (31%) still want some kind of financial relief and justice for those harmed by the bankers who rigged the mortgage system.

4. Improved Infrastructure. It’s clear from our survey that a growing number of consumers (44%) are disgruntled with aging roads, potholes, dilapidated bridges, an antiquated transportation system and traffic jams. We are seeing a growing number of consumers now calling for a major investment by Congress in America’s infrastructure.

This includes a national high speed rail program (53%) between America’s busiest major cities and corridors such as San Diego to San Francisco, Boston to Richmond, and Miami to Atlanta. Consumers are tired of sitting in airports and experiencing flight delays and crammed seats on airplanes. They are demanding more funding from Congress for transportation, and they want the United States to enter the 21st Century when it comes to roads, bridges and rail.

5. Criminal Justice Reform. This is an issue that has bubbled-up over the past two years in our surveys. While criminal justice reform would appear to be more of a “social justice and equality” issue, there’s a growing frustration and concern among consumers that police departments are overzealous in their arrest tactics, and too many Americans are going to jail for drug use offenses while Wall Street bankers go free for their crimes against society.

Now, 38% of consumers rank Criminal Justice Reform as a major concern because it is affecting the harmony of inner cities and race relations, stalling the growth of small businesses and negatively impacting the well-being of citizens who are afraid to walk in their neighborhoods.

Specifically, 47% of consumers want sweeping reform among law enforcement agencies in terms of community policing and how they arrest citizens. Also, more consumers are now in favor of major drug law reform (41%); and approve the regulated use of addictive drugs (35%); the legalization of marijuana (58%); and, replacing jail sentences for the use of narcotics with mandated treatment programs funded by the states (61%). Only 14% of respondents want a reduction in criminal penalties for drug dealers.

So, these are the major issues and concerns of consumers as we enter the fourth quarter of 2015.

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