The financial well-being of common Americans


Last month, the Federal Reserve launched a brand new report: Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2021 [PDF]. This annual survey gauges American monetary well being and attitudes. The 2021 version was performed final November.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Seventy-eight p.c of adults had been both doing okay or dwelling comfortably financially, the best share with this stage of economic well-being for the reason that survey started in 2013.
  • Fifteen p.c of adults with earnings lower than $50,000 struggled to pay their payments due to various month-to-month earnings.
  • Fifteen p.c of employees mentioned they had been in a unique job than twelve months earlier. Just over six in ten individuals who modified jobs mentioned their new job was higher total, in contrast with one in ten who mentioned that it was worse.
  • Sixty-eight p.c of adults mentioned they might cowl a $400 emergency expense completely utilizing money or its equal, up from 50 p.c who would pay this fashion when the survey started in 2013. (Note that this survey is the unique supply of this oft-quoted statistic.)
  • Six p.c of adults didn’t have a checking account. Eleven p.c of adults with a checking account paid an overdraft charge within the earlier twelve months.

These little nuggets of information are attention-grabbing, positive, however what I discover much more attention-grabbing are the charts and graphs documenting long-term developments.

The Demographics of Economic Well-Being

Here, as an illustration, is a chart that exhibits how folks really feel about their present monetary state of affairs:

In 2021, 78% of adults on this nation reported “doing okay” or “dwelling comfortably”. That’s up considerably from when this survey began in 2013.

The subsequent logical query, after all, is how completely different demographics really feel about their monetary state of affairs. The Fed report presents some perception into that.

Here’s a chart that exhibits (as soon as once more) the worth of a faculty diploma).

Economic well-being by education level

Although it is common in some corners to bad-mouth school levels, in response to the U.S. Census Bureau (and lots of different sources) your schooling has a larger influence on lifetime incomes potential than every other demographic issue. Education issues greater than age. Education issues greater than race. Education issues greater than gender. When it involves making a living, schooling issues most.

Next, this is a chart from the Fed report that paperwork financial well-being by race and ethnicity:

Economic well-being by ethnicity

It appears that financial well-being has improved throughout the board throughout the previous decade.

Personal Well-Being Versus National Well-Being

To me, nevertheless, essentially the most attention-grabbing chart is that this one, which compares respondents’ assessments of their private well-being with their evaluation of native and nationwide economies. Look at this chart and inform me what you make of it. (I’ve an opinion, however I would like you to develop your individual speculation earlier than studying mine…)

Personal vs. national economy

From the report:

Similar to folks’s perceptions of their native financial system, the share score the nationwide financial system favorably fell precipitously from 2019 to 2020, after the onset of the pandemic ). However, folks’s perceptions of the nationwide financial system continued to say no in 2021. Only 24 p.c of adults rated the nationwide financial system as ‘good’ or ‘glorious’ in 2021, down 2 proportion factors from 2020 and about half the speed seen in 2019. This development contrasts starkly with folks’s more and more favorable evaluation of their very own monetary well-being.

The Fed report tells us this discrepancy exists however it would not inform us why it exists. Why do 78% of Americans say that their very own monetary state of affairs is not less than okay, however almost the identical quantity imagine that the nationwide financial system is not doing effectively? I do not know. But I can consider two attainable causes.

First, maybe most Americans have discovered to handle cash. Perhaps they have been studying cash blogs and listening to cash podcasts, and now the teachings have sunk in. Maybe they’ve begun saving and investing properly over the previous fifteen years in order that their private financial system is now protected against the gyrations of the financial system at massive.


I harbor a suspicion, nevertheless, that there is one thing else at play right here.

Long-time readers understand how a lot I abhor the information media. The mass media doesn’t report actuality. If you envision life as a bell curve (or “regular distribution”, in the event you choose), the mass media tends to report solely outlier occasions — particularly destructive outlier occasions. The overwhelming majority of our lives comprise regular, optimistic, wholesome interactions and relationships and circumstances. The information would not report these.

In this case, I can not assist however ponder whether this disparity between perceptions of private financial well-being and nationwide financial well-being are pushed (not less than partly) by destructive financial information, information that highlights the issues with our financial system relatively than the issues which are going proper.

That’s what I believe. What do you suppose? What’s the rationale for this hole in notion?

Final Thoughts

There’s rather more knowledge and perception on this 92-page report. I’ve highlighted just some stats from the primary part on total monetary well-being. Other sections cowl earnings, employment, sudden bills, banking and credit score, housing, schooling, scholar loans, retirement and investments, and extra.

I discovered the part on scholar loans attention-grabbing too. It incorporates a lot of insights. Borrowers with much less schooling, for instance, usually tend to be behind on mortgage funds. This makes some sense, I believe. Meanwhile, fewer persons are behind on funds than two years in the past (and this is applicable throughout all demographics).

Here, although, is my favourite chart from all the report. It measures the self-assessed worth of upper schooling:

Value of college education

Two issues appear clear right here. First, people who by no means needed to borrow for school imagine their schooling is price extra. Second, the extra schooling one obtains, the extra helpful it appears.

Okay, a 3rd factor. Compare this chart with the one I shared earlier that highlights monetary well-being by stage of schooling. It’s clear that (objectively) schooling does enhance monetary well being. But those that have scholar loans cannot all the time see that. Their subjective expertise appears to contradict the info. Interesting…

Anyhow, the Fed’s Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2021 is crammed with attention-grabbing data. It’s price studying (or skimming) the following time you sit right down to waste time on the web!


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