Count yourself fortunate, or something, if you’re among the 48 percent of Americans who can cough up a spare $400 in emergency cash without having to beg, borrow or steal. According to a Federal Reserve report on American households’ “economic well-being” in 2013, fewer than half of all Americans said they’d be able to come up with four Benjamins on short notice to deal with an unexpected expense.
The report, released last week by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, indicates a disparity between how Americans view their financial situation and the reality of where their finances actually stand — a signal that the recession of the late 2000s fundamentally altered the concept of doing well for many, as well as an indication that the subsequent recovery may yet be more nominal than real.
Under a section titled “Savings,” the report notes that “[s]avings are depleted for many households after the recession,” and lists the following findings:
- Among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57 percent reported using up some or all of their savings in the Great Recession and its aftermath.
- 39 percent of respondents reported having a rainy day fund adequate to cover three months of expenses.
- Only 48 percent of respondents said that they would completely cover a hypothetical emergency expense costing $400 without selling something or borrowing money.
Obviously, an enormous financial gulf separates the 39 percent who can live for three months off their savings and the 48 percent who can’t even come up with an extra $400 on their own.
“Overall, the survey found that many household were faring well, but that sizable fractions of the population were at the same time displaying signs of financial stress,” the report observed.
Yet more than 60 percent of those surveyed said they were either “doing okay” or “living comfortably” — in spite of the fact that some of those same people aren’t able to afford even a minor financial emergency.
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