At least before Omicron and inflation, more than three-quarters of Americans reported doing OK financially, living comfortably

More than three in four (78%) of Americans reported either doing okay or living comfortably financially at the end of 2021, according to survey results released by the Federal Reserve Monday, which the agency called the highest levels of self-reported financial well-being in the survey’s history.

While the study, known as the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), has a relatively short history (it was started in 2013), the Fed said it still showed some striking results. Among them: The share of adults who reported that they would cover a $400 emergency expense using cash or its equivalent increased to the highest level since the start of the survey or 68%. That’s up from 50% when the survey began in 2013, the Fed said.

However, 11% of adults could not pay the expense by any method.

The survey was conducted in October and November of last year, among 11,000 adult respondents, before the increase in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant and other changes to the economic landscape in recent months (including the impact of inflation becoming widely apparent), the Fed noted.

Other results from the SHED also found a particularly large increase in financial well-being among Hispanic adults. In fact, the agency said, financial well-being increased among all the racial and ethnic groups measured in the survey. Parents were a group who reported large gains in financial well-being, with three-fourths saying they were doing at least okay financially, up eight percentage points from 2020, the Fed said.

Other key findings, the Fed said, included:

  • 15% of workers said they were in a different job than 12 months earlier. Most who changed jobs said the job change was an improvement.
  • Remote work also continued to evolve in 2021. During the week of the survey in late 2021, 22% of employees worked entirely from home, down from 29% in late 2020, but well above the 7% who worked entirely from home before the pandemic.
  • Most employees who worked from home preferred to do so, often citing work-life balance and less time commuting. Those working from home indicated that they would be about as likely to look for a new job if required to return to the office as if their employer instituted a pay freeze.

The Fed said its report also explores families’ experiences related to banking and credit, income, housing, retirement, student loans, and retirement alongside several new topics, such as the use of emerging financial products including cryptocurrencies and “Buy Now, Pay Later” services.

Federal Reserve Board issues Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2021 report