WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new Gallup poll reports American families are spending an average of $151 on food every week.
That is a bit more than in 1943 when, according to Gallup, families spent an average of $15 per week on food. By 1987 that had jumped to $106.
Those numbers may make it sound like food is more expensive than in the past, but the picture changes when Gallup adjusts the figures for inflation. In 2012 dollars, American families are actually spending less money on food these days, according to Gallup: "The average $151 Americans report spending each week on food today is down from the inflation-adjusted $157 to $214 range Gallup found throughout the mid- to late 1980s, the last time it regularly asked the question.
"Adjusting the historical data to 2012 dollars also reveals that Americans' weekly spending on food began to decline in the 1970s, after rising to a high of $234 in 1966 and 1967."
Gallup warns, however, that although food spending may be down, "this may change quickly if food prices spike in reaction to the worsening drought in the Midwest, which is adversely affecting crops such as corn and soybeans. Food prices may rise by up to 3.5 percent this year and another 3 percent to 4 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
The economy seems to have affected eating out as well.
According to the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, there was a reduction in household food expenditures during the recession — but it wasn't groceries: "Annual reductions in food-away-from-home spending, such as at fast-food places and sit-down restaurants, were largely responsible for the decrease in household food expenditures during the recession. Real away-from-home spending declined 11.5 percent between 2006 and 2009. Spending in the grocery aisle (food at home) increased from 2007 to 2008, as consumers replaced restaurant meals with at-home eating. In 2009, however, real at-home food spending dropped, as consumers economized further on their grocery bills."
A July survey by Rasmussen Reports found that 41 percent of American adults say they are dining out at restaurants less often than they were six months ago. "Only 5 percent say they are going out to eat more often," Rasmussen reported, "while a majority (53 percent) is dining out about the same as they were six months ago."
Americans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, spent an annual average of $2,505 on food away from home.
The National Restaurant Association's 2012 industry overview says the typical amount of money spent on restaurants each day is $1.7 billion.
The 2010 U.S. Census found that 49.3 percent of Americans dined out in 2010. The majority did not. It was, however, the most popular of all the leisure activities tracked by the census. (For example, 3 percent of Americans played chess, 3.6 percent sang karaoke, 37.9 percent read a book, 2.4 percent read a comic book, 12.3 percent went to a zoo and 34.7 percent barbecued.)
Alexander Eichler at the Huffington Post sees class struggles behind the rates of people eating out: "Still, the Census results indicate that more than half of all Americans, whether out of necessity or by choice, aren't indulging in a luxury that the financially comfortable take for granted — findings that track with what is already known about the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States, and the grim financial situations in which millions of people find themselves as the economy continues to founder."