Fuel spike curbs vacations, dining out: poll

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many Americans will forgo vacations and dine in more often to combat soaring fuel prices, while 1 in 10 are rethinking where they live or work, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

Tourists relax on a beach in Laguna Beach, California July 14, 2006. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Nearly 39 percent of those surveyed said they were considering changing vacation plans, while 31 percent plan to eat out less often. The poll of 1,113 likely voters found that 58 percent intended to drive less, and 2 out of 10 said they would rely more heavily on mass transportation.

About 10 percent said they were pondering moving nearer to work, while roughly the same percentage said they were thinking about finding a job closer to home.

“This is a broad, cultural change,” pollster John Zogby said, pointing out that while 10 percent is a small minority, it translates into millions of people considering major moves.

“Low energy costs and the availability of autos helped fuel suburbanization,” he said. As people conclude that high energy prices may be here to stay, “this is now one of those big changes in our lives that requires nothing short of dramatic lifestyle changes.”

Rising costs for fuel and food have come at a particularly vulnerable time for the U.S. economy, which was already on shaky ground because of the housing market slump that prompted banks to curb lending.

Airlines, hotels, auto makers and restaurants have been hit particularly hard as oil topped $130 per barrel, and many companies have responded by cutting production, laying off workers or raising prices.

None of that bodes well for the U.S. economy.

The poll also found that only about 11 percent of those surveyed had fully spent their tax rebates, which the U.S. Treasury Department has been sending out since late April to try to spur spending. Another 11 percent had spent some and saved some, while nearly 15 percent used the rebate to pay down debt.

When asked in February what they intended to do with the checks, nearly 1 in 3 said they would pay down debt, while 16 percent said they would spend it all.

About half of those surveyed said they had not yet received their rebate check or did not expect to get one. High-income households were not eligible.

The cash infusion appeared to boost spending last month, when retail sales came in much stronger than expected. However, economists think economic growth will sputter once again after the checks are gone.

The poll was conducted June 12-14, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, meaning results could vary that much either way.

Editing by Jonathan Oatis