More feel better about financial situations, but notable differences remain, Fed study finds

Report also looks at impact of opioid crisis on local economies

More American adults were feeling better about their financial situations in 2017 – about three in every four – than in 2013, but significant differences remain across race, ethnicity and education groups, according to a new report issued by the Federal Reserve Tuesday, which also looked at the relationship between the opioid crisis and local economies.

The report (“Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households”) is based on the Fed’s annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), conducted among 12,000 people in November and December of last year. The survey examines the economic well-being and financial lives of Americans and their families; it was first conducted in 2013 to measure the recovery from the 2007-09 Great Recession.

“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% reporting they are doing OK financially,” said Federal Reserve Board Gov. Lael Brainard in a release. “Even with the improvement in financial outlook, however, 40% still say they cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, or would do so by borrowing or selling something.”

Brainard also said that the Fed, through the survey, learned that about one in five adults know 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.

Additionally, according to the Fed, the survey showed that 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.

Other key results of the survey, the Fed said, included:

  • 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 10 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.
  • 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. This is an improvement from half of adults in 2013 being ill-prepared for such an expense.

The Fed said that survey data files from the report are available for download and that the report, downloadable data, and a video summarizing the survey’s findings are posted on the Fed’s website.

Federal Reserve Board issues Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households