Yesterday's Necessities Become Today's Luxuries
Of 12 items tested, six dropped significantly in the necessity rankings from 2006 to 2009, while the other six basically held their own. All of the "old-tech" household appliances on the list dropped in their necessity ratings. For example, the proportion of people who rate a clothes dryer as a necessity fell by 17 percentage points in the past three years. There are similar declines for the home air conditioner (16 points), the dishwasher (14 points) and the television set (12 points).
A few of the "middle-aged" household appliances and services also declined. The microwave, a kitchen staple since the late 1980s, is currently viewed as a necessity by less than half the public, a 21-point drop in the past three years. The proportion who rate cable and satellite television service as a necessity fell 10 percentage points since 2006, nearly matching the declining value of a television set.
In contrast, none of the newer information-era gadgets and services has fallen in Americans' assessment of what they absolutely need to have. Cell phones and home computers continue to be seen as a necessity by half of the public, unchanged from three years ago. High-speed Internet access is seen as a necessity by about three-in-ten adults, also unchanged from 2006. Two items that came onto the consumer scene in this decade -- iPods and flat-screen TVs -- are still seen as a necessity by a very small share of the public, but that share hasn't declined during the recession.
Finally, there's the automobile -- the ultimate survivor. It's been around for nearly a century, but in good times or bad, it retains its pride of place at the top of America's list of everyday necessities.