It’s taken five years, but federal officials are seeing an improvement if consumers faced a financial emergency roughly equal to one payment on their vehicle installment contract.
The Federal Reserve Board’s latest Report on the economic well-being of U.S. households indicated four in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money. Officials pointed out this level is an improvement from half of adults in 2013 being ill-prepared for such an expense.
The report released this week goes on to mention that economic well-being has generally improved over the past five years. The project noted that 74 percent of adults reported they were doing at least OK financially in 2017 — up 10 percentage points from the first survey in 2013.
Even so, officials acknowledged notable differences remain across race, ethnicity, education groups and locations, and many individuals still struggle to repay college loans, handle small emergency expenses and manage retirement savings.
The report derived from the Fed’s fifth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decision-making (SHED) and examined the economic well-being and financial lives of Americans and their families. During November and December 2017, more than 12,000 people participated in the survey. They described their experiences on a wide range of topics, including income, employment, unexpected expenses, banking and credit, housing, education and retirement planning.
Among the new topics covered in this year’s report is the relationship between the opioid epidemic and local economic conditions, which could certainly impact whether a contract holder stays current or falls into delinquency.
The Fed discovered one in five adults personally knows someone who has been addicted to opioids, and those who do have somewhat less favorable assessments of economic conditions. Still, more than half of adults exposed to opioid addiction say that their local economy is good or excellent, suggesting a role for factors beyond economic conditions in understanding the crisis.
“This year’s survey finds that rising levels of employment are translating into improved financial conditions for many but not all Americans, with one third now reporting they are living comfortably and another 40 percent reporting they are doing ok financially,” said Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard. “Even with the improvement in financial outlook, however, 40 percent still say they cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, or would do so by borrowing or selling something.
“We learned that about one in five adults knows someone with addiction to opioids or painkillers; whites are about twice as likely to have such exposure as blacks and Hispanics; and exposure does not vary much by education level or by local economic conditions,” Brainard continued.
The Board’s SHED data looked at how individuals are managing their finances and making decisions vital to their financial lives and futures. Alongside the economic gains observed since the Great Recession, this report also noted challenges faced by people who are trying to piece together multiple jobs or who are struggling to establish emergency savings.
Among the report’s other key findings:
— Individuals of all education levels, races and ethnicities have shared in the economic expansion over the past five years, although reported well-being remains lower for racial and ethnic minorities and those with less educational attainment.
— Most workers are satisfied with the wages and benefits from their current job and are optimistic about their future job opportunities. Even so, challenges including irregular job scheduling remain. One in six workers have irregular work schedules that they did not request, and one in ten receive their work schedule less than a week in advance.
— Many adults are struggling to save for retirement, and less than two-fifths believe that they are on track with their savings. While preparedness for retirement increases with age, concerns about inadequate savings are still common for those nearing retirement.
The entire report can be downloaded here.