18 December 2018

Americans See Brighter Economic Prospects

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Americans report steady improvements in their financial well-being and more of them are optimistic about their future employment prospects, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Tuesday. But people’s perceptions of their economic situation varied by race and educational attainment.

The report also found persistent signs of economic fragility, with many workers continuing to struggle to save for unexpected emergencies or retirement. More than a quarter had skipped medical treatment due to cost, the report said.

The report shows how widespread the opioid epidemic has become, with one in five adults saying they personally know someone who has been addicted. And it showed that informal work arrangements are becoming more prevalent. About 31% of adults said they engaged in “gig work” in the month preceding the survey, up from 28% in 2016.

The Fed’s Survey of Household Economics and Decision making questioned more than 12,000 people in November and December 2017 about their financial circumstances, income, employment, housing, education and retirement situations.

Since the Fed first launched the survey in 2013, it has found that Americans’ financial well-being generally has improved in line with improvements in the overall economy.

This year’s survey “is a story of overall improvement consistent with the national economic expansion,” the report said. “It is also a complex story of variation among different groups in the country and remaining areas of economic vulnerability.”

Among the highlights:

Overall satisfaction: About 74% of Americans say they were either doing OK or living comfortably in 2017, up 11 percentage points from the first survey, in 2013. But only 65% of black adults and 66% of Hispanic adults said they were at least doing OK financially, compared with 77% of white adults. Higher-income, better-educated and married respondents also were more likely than the overall population to say they were doing all right.

Economic fragility: Despite the generally positive view of the economy, the survey found that many Americans are still on shaky financial ground. About 40% said they could not come up with $400 in an emergency, down from about half in the 2013 survey, and about one-fifth said they struggle paying their current bills. Health-care expenses remain burdensome as well, with 37% of adults saying they have unpaid medical debt and 27% saying they have skipped treatment due to cost, up from 25% in the 2016 survey but down from 32% in 2013.

Opioids: Overall, about one in five adults said they personally know someone who has been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers. White respondents were more than twice as likely as black or Hispanic respondents to say they had been exposed to the epidemic. Those who said they know someone dealing with opioids were somewhat less likely to have a favorable assessment of the local and national economy.

The Gig Economy: About 31% of adults said they had engaged in odd jobs in the previous month, up from 28% in 2016. The most common forms of gig work were internet-related, such as driving for a ride-sharing service, although other services, such as babysitting or house cleaning, were more prevalent among adults with a high school education or less. More than half said they took odd jobs to supplement their income from main employment or as a hobby.

Student Loans: A fifth of adults with student debt said they were behind on their payments, up slightly from earlier years. First-generation college students, black and Hispanic borrowers and those who attended for-profit institutions were more likely than others to be behind on their loans.

Retirement: Less than two-fifths of adults think they are on track with their retirement savings, a figure that rises with age. Only 28% of those aged 18 to 29 feel their savings are on track. The survey also showed a shift toward defined-contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k) accounts, and away from defined-benefit pension plans. A majority of current retirees, 56%, draw money from a pension, while 26% of those still in the workforce reported they will have one when they retire.

Click here for the original article from The Wall Street Journal.

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