Why Americans Don’t Save— and What We Can Do About It
Five studies on American's dwindling savings
Imagine your car needs a new transmission. It’s going to cost $2,000. Can you scrape that together within the month? If so, you’re better off than nearly half your fellow Americans.
We’re used to thinking of the nation’s economic woes in terms of unemployment. But even our sobering jobless rate masks a deeper economic sickness. In 2011, the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that 44 percent of Americans say they would have trouble coming up with two grand in 30 days if they needed to. These “financially fragile” households—one medical bill or busted furnace away from bankruptcy—cut across low-income groups and the middle class alike. What unites this huge swath of America is not an employment problem, but a savings problem.
Savings aren’t just important for buffering life’s emergencies; research shows that financial assets, more than income, are a strong predictor of upward mobility. They’re also crucial later in life. In 2010, 75 percent of Americans who were approaching retirement age—many of them in the tidal wave of aging baby boomers—had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. According to economist Teresa Ghilarducci, about half of middle-class workers will live out their golden years on a food budget of about $5 a day. So here’s the question: Why don’t Americans save?