Release date: 3/31/2015
One-in-three U.S. adults has no emergency savings despite improving economy
Nearly half say their savings would last three months or less
Washington, DC – An improving economy has done little to help people prepare for a financial emergency, with 34 percent of adults in America – more than 72 million people -- saying that they don’t have any emergency savings, according to the second annual financial capability survey from NeighborWorks America. That is up from 29 percent of adults reporting no emergency savings in the similar survey one year ago.
In the survey, 47 percent of adults said that their savings would last three months or less. That’s much higher than one year ago when 41 percent said that they would go through their emergency funds in less than 90 days.
The survey results were released today by NeighborWorks America to mark the beginning of National Financial Capability month, and to call attention to the fragility of many families’ finances despite an improving economy and a stock market chasing records.
“These data are sobering, but not that surprising for those of us who have been working on the front-lines to help families rebuild their finances,” said Paul Weech, president and CEO of NeighborWorks America. “The hole that many people found themselves in due to the Great Recession – dug by sharply reduced home equity during the crisis and lagging wages during the recovery -- was deep and digging out is going to take more time.”
Moreover, the percentage of adults saying saving for emergencies is an important financial goal fell to just 1 percent, from 5 percent one year ago suggesting that the Great Recession has too quickly become a distant memory.
While the recession is over, most economists say the economy is on tenuous ground. That is why the absence of any savings for one-third of adults, and the low amount of emergency funds for many in general is particularly worrisome in light of how long it takes the average person who becomes unemployed, and would need to draw on emergency savings, to find a new job. According to February data
from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unemployed person was out of work for 31 weeks, more than twice as long as people say that their emergency savings would last.
Among those surveyed nationally, 34 percent of adults report no emergency savings; of these 50 percent of African-American and 42 percent of Hispanic adults said that they had no emergency savings. That is up from 43 percent and 39 percent, respectively, in 2014.
As might be expected, the survey results bore out that the more income a person has, the more likely they are to have built an emergency fund. Approximately 19 percent of people making $100,000 or more per year said that they had no emergency fund, while 53 percent of people earning less than $40,000 said that they had no such reserve. Many people whose income places them squarely in the middle class also are financially vulnerable, with 35 percent of adults with income between $40-59,000 holding no emergency fund.
Top financial goals
Twenty-four percent of adults said their most important savings goal is retirement, down four points from 28 percent last year.
The number of adults who said that they were saving for a down payment on a home also declined, dropping to eight percent from 13 percent in 2014. This suggests that despite continued low interest rates, and more credit availability, the housing recovery may be weaker than anticipated.
What NeighborWorks America is doing to reverse the numbers
NeighborWorks America is committed to building consumers’ financial security by offering comprehensive training and impact evaluation services designed to help nonprofit professionals to develop and scale financial capability programs in their communities. Many of the approximately 250 nonprofit organizations across the country supported by NeighborWorks America offer financial capability services to help alter negative trends, with emergency savings plans just one goal.
Results from a national financial capability demonstration project
led by NeighborWorks America found that 57 percent of the people who started with zero savings were able to establish a habit of savings following completion of coaching, while 48 percent of participants who already had a savings habit increased the amount set aside for emergencies and other goals.
“We’ve worked to expand this program in 2014 and are continuing to do so this year, by offering more training classes for financial coaches to reach more consumers,” explained Weech. “Saving for emergencies as well as anticipated expenditures such as vacation or college are all critical components of being financially stable. Working with a certified, nonprofit financial coach to lay out a road map for success is more important than ever, especially for the low-income families with whom we work.”
Note: This blended telephone and web-based email survey was conducted of a nationally representative sample of 1,035 U.S. adults. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. Conducted by SMARI.LLC, for NeighborWorks America, March 10-19, 2015.
About NeighborWorks America
For more than 35 years, NeighborWorks America has created opportunities for people to improve their lives and strengthen their communities by providing access to homeownership and to safe and affordable rental housing. In the last five years, NeighborWorks organizations have generated more than $24.5 billion in reinvestment in these communities. NeighborWorks America is the nation’s leading trainer of community development and affordable housing professionals.