A new survey from BankRate shows that nearly 40 percent of Americans are one unexpected bill away from financial ruin, CBS News reported.
The survey found that about a quarter of Americans also have more credit card debt than than they do emergency savings, while another 13 percent “have neither credit card debt nor emergency savings.”
“People don’t have enough money for unplanned expenses, and if they have more credit card debt that emergency savings, it’s a double whammy,” said Bankrate chief financial analyst Greg McBride. “In the event of unplanned expenses, their options are limited.”
There are likely several causes for Americans’ financial instability, but a big part of the problem is that wages have been primarily stagnant for an extended period of time. The only group to see any sort of significant pay gain last year was the lowest-paid workers, and that is because new minimum-wage laws required businesses to pay them more.
Those in the worst shape are Americans in their 30’s and 40’s, “which is likely due to the financial stresses of that age group, such as saving or paying for their children’s tuition and paying for higher expenses such as mortgages and child care,” said CBS. Many towards the younger side of that group are also saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
As CBS pointed out, the tendency of Americans to have a savings safety net has been falling steadily over the past 30 years or so. In the 1980s, people in the US were saving about 10 to 12 percent of their incomes. In December of last year, that number had fallen to just 4.9 percent.
“It’s difficult for people to really move the needle on savings when their income hasn’t grown,” said McBride. “Savings is not a high enough priority for American households.”
McBride is right. Wages for most Americans haven’t budged in years. In fact, even the minimum wage is worth less now than it was almost 50 years ago. According to the National Employment Law Project, the minimum wage was worth the most in 1968 when it was $1.60 an hour. When adjusted for inflation, that $1.60 would be worth just under $11 an hour in 2014 dollars. Currently, the federal minimum wage stands at a mere $7.25 an hour.
Unless something is done to fix the income inequality and help most of the country earn decent wages, it’s likely that a large percentage of Americans will continue to live paycheck to paycheck, and just one major expense away from financial disaster.