Real vs. perceived economic pain.

When it comes to issues like the economy and crime, the public perception of a bad situation may be worse than the situation itself. Even worse, negative perceptions about the economy, specifically, can lead to the reality of a declining economy. The news right now is tough.

The percentage of consumers rating the U.S. economy as “poor” or “very poor” rose by 12 points from nearly 35% in late March to more than 47% in early June, according to Resonate’s COVID-19 and Emerging Trends Consumer Flash Study released earlier this month.

That perception or reality – depending on where you stand – carries over to the Gulf South. 39% of us are worse off financially today than we were two years ago, according to the 2022 Gulf South Index. That is nine points higher than 2021.

41% percent of Gulf South citizens say that “times are tough. We are trying to pay our bills,” which is on par with last year’s findings.

The pain shows itself in the daily choices we make. For example, the number of people in the Resonate report that say they are “paying more for my regular purchases and have had to make changes or cut corners to accommodate” rose by nearly 10 points in just two months, with 50% of Americans making changes in early June compared to a little more than 40% doing the same in mid-March.

“Almost everyone is dealing with higher prices for both the things we need and the things we want. At the same time, we see that air travel is at or above pre-pandemic numbers. Others are driving hundreds of miles for summer vacation with record high gas prices,” said Marc Ehrhardt, president of The Ehrhardt Group. “As consumers, we will have to make choices at some point. Our quality of life and ability to pay our bills – perceived or real – directly impact our decision-making in all aspects of our lives. What do we want or need more? How do our needs and wants affect our lives? For citizens in many states, how will our quality of life and perceived or real financial situation affect our votes in deciding who will lead us?”

* * *

There’s a report for that – measuring happiness & our search for it.

With the preponderance of data and analysis out there (not all of it good), it is not surprising that the diligent team of the Gulf South Index landed on the World Happiness Report.

According to the tenth edition of the World Happiness Report, “there has, on average, been a long-term moderate upward trend in stress, worry and sadness in most countries and a slight long-term decline in the enjoyment of life.”

Worry and stress have risen by 12% since 2019. More research is underway to determine the sources of this worry and stress, ranging from ongoing and new armed conflicts in different locales, to personal and community health. Another area of potential stress is from the availability and attention to various sources of information, like social media.

“There is an argument to be made that the more information that we expose ourselves to, the greater level of concern and stress that can emerge. This can be from our own personal day-to-day worries, to global issues like the war in Ukraine,” said Ehrhardt.

On the other hand, the World Happiness Report points to the “most remarkable change” in the last two-plus years is the global increase in “benevolence.” “In every global region, there have been large increases in the proportion of people who give money to charity, help strangers and do voluntary work in every global region. Altogether, the global average of these three measures was up by a quarter in 2021, compared to before the pandemic.”

“Even when things look bleak, communities band together and help each other. We share in a common theme of hope. We are optimistic about our future, whether it is the American Dream or next year being better than this year. That optimism impacts how we can communicate with each other and how we can get brought down by outside communication sources telling us that things are getting worse, not better. We need to decide for ourselves what is reality and what isn’t. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Things aren’t as bad as they seem, but they aren’t as great as our friends on TikTok and Facebook try to make us think they are,” said Ehrhardt.

Oh yeah, Finland, Denmark and Iceland hold down the top three spots on the 2022 happiness ranking. The U.S.? No. 16, right behind Canada.

More to come on the impact and influence of information on our personal and community happiness in future Gulf South Index updates.

* * *

Welcome to summer – TV down. Streaming up.

“May is historically the month when TV viewership is at its lowest,” according to recent Nielsen insights. However, “it could be an inflection point for the adoption of expanding streaming platforms.”

Streaming services now claim more than an hour of every three hours of total TV time we expend in a day. Netflix and YouTube command the largest shares of the streaming universe with Hulu and Amazon Prime Video commanding around 50% or less of the viewing time of Netflix and YouTube.

In our soon-to-be-released 2022 Gulf South Index report, 35% of Gulf South residents say they spend three hours or more each day streaming or playing video games. The same percentage of consumers nationally spend three or more hours each day. At the same time, 60% of Gulf South residents spend three hours or more daily watching TV.

No surprise to our kids. Stranger Things, Season 4, and Obi-Wan Kenobi on Netflix and Disney+ respectively, accounted for some of the largest streaming viewership in May.

One note for those harkening the ultimate demise for traditional TV, live sports still attract viewers. NBA playoff games accounted for the top six cable TV programs in May. The uncertain outcomes of sports being played in the moment keeps our attention.

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