|The new Survey of Household Economic Decision Making from the Fed is out and is required reading for anyone who cares about the state of household finances in the United States.
In many ways, the latest findings underscore the overall economic recovery and expansion over the five years of the survey. Not surprisingly, the improvement in individuals’ assessment of their finances largely parallels other measures, such as the falling national unemployment rate. And in 2017, more people say they are managing okay financially and would be able to handle a small, unexpected expense than in previous years since at least 2013.
The survey also highlights some aspects of subjective well-being and emerging issues that can be missed in long-standing measures of objective outcomes. Our understanding of full employment and how to measure it is a key example. Many workers in the survey have a full-time job with regular hours, pay raises, and good benefits. Others who are also employed describe a very different experience: fewer hours than they want to work, only a few days’ notice on work schedules, and little in benefits or pay increases. Still, others supplement their income through odd jobs and gig work.
Additionally, alongside the improvements in the years following the Great Recession, several areas of concern remain. Disparities in economic well-being and outcomes are common among minorities, those with less education, and those living in lower-income neighborhoods. Small emergency expenses would still challenge a troubling number of households, and the opioid crisis appears to have touched many families. Individuals also point to financial struggles across a lifetime—from repaying college loans to managing retirement savings. Altogether, the survey findings provide a snapshot of people’s financial lives in late 2017. It is a story of overall improvement consistent with the national economic expansion. It is also a complex story of variation among different groups in the country and remaining areas of economic vulnerability.
Housing and Neighborhoods