- 49% rate their current finances positively, down from 56% last year
- Record-high 50% believe their financial situation is getting worse
- Younger adults most affected by recent economic downturn
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Although Americans' assessments of their current finances are not much lower than last year, 50% of Americans now say their financial situation is getting worse. This latest reading is, by one percentage point, the highest Gallup has measured in a trend stretching back two decades.
Unemployment has surged to the top of the list when Americans are asked to name the most important financial problem facing their family, and significantly more adults -- particularly young adults -- are worried now than were worried a year ago about being able to pay housing costs and other financial obligations.
These results are from Gallup's annual Economy and Personal Finance poll, conducted April 1-14.
Fewer Rate Current Financial Situation Positively
Currently, 49% of Americans describe their financial situation as either "excellent" or "good." A year ago, 56% rated their finances positively. The decline has been entirely offset by an increase in the percentage saying their situation is "only fair." The 15% of Americans describing their financial situation as "poor" is the same as last year.
Notably, more Americans rate their financial situation positively now than did so during and immediately after the Great Recession. Between 2009 and 2012, 42% of Americans, on average, said their finances were excellent or good.
Additionally, a separate question finds 67% of Americans say they have enough money to live comfortably right now, virtually unchanged from a year ago (66%) and similar to 2008-2011 when it ranged between 65% and 69%.
But while most Americans' finances have not deteriorated in the first few weeks of widespread social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, they don't expect that to continue.
By 50% to 35%, Americans say their financial situation is getting worse rather than getting better, marking a sharp reversal from last year. Significantly more Americans also thought their finances were getting worse rather than better in April 2008, toward the beginning of the Great Recession.
Positive ratings of one's finances have fallen a bit further in the past year among middle-income Americans (down 12 points) than among lower-income (down five) and upper-income Americans (down seven). However, optimism that their finances are improving fell most sharply among the upper-income group.
Many younger adults appear to have already been adversely affected by recent economic changes, with a 13-point decline among 18- to 29-year-olds in the percentage rating their current finances positively, roughly twice the decline seen among those aged 50 and older. Younger adults also show a disproportionately large decline in their personal financial expectations moving forward.
|% Excellent/Good||% Getting better|
|%||%||pct. pts.||%||%||pct. pts.|
|Annual household income|
Unemployment, Lack of Money Most Commonly Cited Financial Problems
When asked to name, in their own words, the most important financial problem facing their family, 12% of U.S. adults mention unemployment or job loss. A year ago, 3% gave that response. That nine-point increase aligns with reports that more than 20 million Americans have been laid off as many businesses around the country have been forced to close or dramatically scale back operations to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The 12% mentioning unemployment or job loss is the highest Gallup has measured since it first asked this question in 2005. On several occasions from 2009 to 2011, another time of widespread joblessness, 10% or 11% said unemployment was the most important financial problem facing their family.
Nearly as many Americans today say lack of money is their biggest financial challenge, although the 11% saying so is unchanged from last year.
|Unemployment/Loss of job||3||12||+9|
|Lack of money/Low wages||11||11||0|
|Cost of owning/renting a home||8||9||+1|
|Too much debt/Not enough money to pay debts||6||7||+1|
|Effects of coronavirus||--||5||+5|
|College expenses/Student loans/Student loan debt||8||5||-3|
|State of the economy||1||3||+2|
|High cost of living/Inflation||6||3||-3|
|Lack of savings||1||2||+1|
|Credit card debt||--||1||+1|
|* Less than 1%|
As Americans' financial concerns have shifted to lack of employment, they have shifted away from healthcare costs. Mentions of healthcare have fallen from 17% last year to 8% now. The percentage mentioning taxes shows a similar decline of seven points, from 8% to 1%.
Unemployment is first, or tied for first, among all income groups, as well as among both those who say their financial situation is getting better and those who say it's getting worse.
Younger adults are significantly more likely than older age groups to say unemployment and housing costs are the biggest financial problems they are facing now.
- Twenty-two percent of 18- to 29-year-olds mention unemployment or job loss, nearly twice the percentage of those aged 30 to 64 (12%).
- Seventeen percent of 18- to 29-year-olds mention housing costs as their biggest financial problem, compared with 10% of those aged 30 to 49, 6% of those aged 50 to 64, and 3% of those aged 65 and older.
Heightened Worry About Many Specific Financial Obligations
The poll finds significant increases in the percentages of Americans worried about four specific personal financial issues. The greatest of these is a nine-point increase since 2019 in the percentage of Americans worried about not having enough money to pay their rent, mortgage or other housing costs, from 30% to 39%. There have also been meaningful spikes in Americans' levels of worry about not having enough to pay normal monthly bills, making minimum payments on credit cards and being able to maintain their standard of living.
|Not being able to pay your rent, mortgage or other housing costs||30||39||+9|
|Not having enough to pay your normal monthly bills||36||43||+7|
|Not being able to maintain the standard of living you enjoy||42||48||+6|
|Not being able to make the minimum payments on your credit cards||20||26||+6|
|Not having enough money for retirement||54||59||+5|
|Not being able to pay medical costs of a serious illness/accident||51||54||+3|
|Not being able to pay medical costs for normal healthcare||42||43||+1|
|Not having enough money to pay for your children's college||36||33||-3|
Nearly every age and income subgroup shows at least slightly greater worry about paying for housing, paying normal monthly bills, making minimum credit card payments and maintaining their standard of living. However, younger adults show much steeper increases in the percentage worrying about the first three of these financial problems than older adults do. This includes a 17-point increase in the percentage of young adults worried about paying their monthly bills, 16 points for making minimum credit card payments and 13 points for paying housing costs.
|Paying housing costs||Paying monthly bills||Making minimum credit card payments||Maintaining standard of living|
Increases in concerns about maintaining one's standard of living are greatest among upper-income adults. Currently, 37% of adults with an annual household income of $100,000 or more are worried about maintaining their standard of living, up 15 points from last year. Among middle-income adults, the increase is seven points -- from 37% to 44%. Lower-income adults are the most worried about keeping their standard of living, but about as many worry now (61%) as did so a year ago (59%).
Amid these changes, not having enough money for retirement and not being able to pay medical costs in the event of a serious illness or accident remain the most common financial worries, as they have for the past two decades.
The economic slowdown brought about by efforts to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus has affected millions of Americans -- although less than 10% appear to be worse off right now than a year ago, according to assessments of their current finances.
However, many more believe their financial situation is getting worse even if the effects of the slowdown haven't fully hit their bank accounts yet. This pattern was apparent during the Great Recession -- more people anticipated a declining financial situation before they reported a negative change in their current financial situation. The longer the economic slowdown continues, the worse it will get for an even larger proportion of Americans.
The immediate economic impact of the COVID-19 situation, for most Americans, seems to be heightening their anxiety about what could happen as opposed to altering their prevailing circumstances. But younger adults -- who are more likely to be employed in the industries most affected by the shutdown, such as retail, hospitality, service and manufacturing -- appear to be the exception. They are more likely than older adults to indicate their financial situation has already been harmed and to cite unemployment as the most urgent financial problem they are facing right now.
Younger adults' expectations for their future finances have declined the most, and they show disproportionate increases in concerns about meeting their most basic financial obligations, including paying for housing, normal monthly bills and even making minimum payments on their credit cards.
Many taxpayers have received their federal government relief payment, but for people -- especially young people -- faced with unemployment, the $1,200 only goes so far. They will likely need much more assistance through government or charitable means in order to get through the crisis at a time when job prospects are grim.
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