No Worries… You’re Doing Great!

Last week the Federal Reserve published its Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED).

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a survey they began taking in 2013 coming out of the disaster that’s become known as The Great Recession. According to the Fed, it’s designed to measure “the economic well-being of U.S. households and identifies potential risks to their finances.”

As the latest report has just come out, I thought it’d be worth looking at a couple of the questions they asked and the responses they received. (Bear in mind these data were collected in October and November 2021 and cover the preceding 12 months — a substantial portion of the “lockdown/stimulus” era.)

In the General Well-Being Section…

They started off with, “Overall, which one of the following best describes how well you are managing financially these days?”

The good news is 78% of respondents said they were “living comfortably” or “doing OK” while 32% were “just getting by” or struggling. 

For comparative purposes they asked if they were doing better or worse than the previous 12 months…

That’s 80% doing the same or better. 

As an aside, surprisingly — or maybe not — the results to this question have barely changed since the 2015 survey:

And 2016:

And 2017…

Anyway…

The “Emergency Fund” section offered some enlightening responses:

Which was immediately followed by:

So of the 41% who didn’t have a rainy day fund, 65% (or 27% of the total respondents) are still living month-to-month.

Stimulus “income” played a big role in folks managing during that year. One of the big entitlements was the child tax credit that extended through 2021.

So 70% of qualifying respondents took advantage of that. And where did they use that money…

Apparently the $300 a month came in handy. 

Maybe one of the more telling sections was the “Financial Literacy” section. There were only three questions, two of which were pretty alarming…

And…

I suppose we should count it as reassuring that at least a majority of those surveyed understand the concepts of real returns and compound interest.

So What’s the Verdict?

I’m not suggesting that the intent of this survey is to slant perspective on the well-being of American citizens — but many of the questions were ridiculously subjective.

Asking if you think that you’re doing “OK” is simply a recipe for a headline these days, as in “78% of Americans Say They’re Comfortable or Doing OK.”  

But what exactly is “OK?” Are YOU doing OK? 

A better question might be “How successfully are you growing your wealth?” There was one question that tried to touch on that…

Yet, in general, the report concluded:

Despite persistent concerns that people expressed about the national economy, the survey highlights the positive effects of the recovery on the individual financial circumstances of U.S. families. …self-reported financial well-being increased to the highest rate since the survey began in 2013.

There was one small exception…

Things have changed pretty dramatically since this survey was taken. The government stimulus tap has since been closed, COVID concerns have diminished significantly, and inflation is punishing everyone.  

It’ll be interesting to see the responses to this question next year…

If you’re interested, you can see the full survey along with the responses in the appendices here.

Make the trend your friend,

Bob Byrne
Editor, Streetlight Daily