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"Our analysis finds that many American families, even those with relatively high incomes, are walking a financial tightrope," stated Pew's Erin Currier. (Photo: Ken Teegardin)

Most Americans on Brink of Financial Disaster

New Pew report highlights "financial fragility" of most U.S. households.

Andrea Germanos

Despite reports of economic recovery, most Americans' household financial security is anything but secure.

So finds a report released Thursday by Pew Charitable Trusts which looks at three elements of a household balance sheet—income, expenditures and wealth—over the past several decades, and reveals the "financial tightrope" most families are walking.

Most U.S. households—70 percent—face financial strains in at least one of those three areas, the analysis found, with many facing more than one.

Fifty-five percent of all households have a month or less of liquid savings, referring to savings or checking accounts, if a financial emergency struck, while a typical household at the bottom has less than two weeks such savings.

In the case of a financial emergency, many households would turn to any other assets they might have, either liquidating retirement savings or taking on credit card debt. Yet even doing that, the report states, "the typical household could replace only about four months of lost income."

The report also found that a vast difference in earnings increases across the time studied. Though wage growth for a typical worker was 22 percent from 1979 1999, that growth was just two percent from 1999 to 2009.

While wealth—being defined as total assets minus total debts—of a typical household in 2013 was higher than it was in 1989, the gains have not been shared equally across economic groups, with those at the bottom gaining little wealth over the past two decades.

Adding to instability, the reports finds, are "volatile" fluctuations in family income. "Nearly half of households experienced an income gain or drop of more than 25 percent in a given two-year period," it states.

"Our analysis finds that many American families, even those with relatively high incomes, are walking a financial tightrope," stated Erin Currier, director of Pew’s financial security and mobility project.

"Many have little if any cushion to absorb an unexpected financial setback. It’s a precarious state that threatens not just financial security, but upward mobility," Currier said.

"This reality must begin to change if the American Dream is to remain alive and well for future generations." the report states.


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