(CBS MONEYWATCH) – Many Americans remain in precarious financial shape even as the economy continues to grow, with 7 of 10 saying they struggling with at least one aspect of financial stability, such as paying bills or saving money.
The findings come from a survey of more than 5,400 Americans from the Financial Health Network, a nonprofit financial services consultancy. The project, which started a year ago, is aimed at assessing people’s financial health by asking about debt, savings, bills and wages, among other issues.
Despite solid U.S. economic growth this year, the share of Americans who are struggling financially remains statistically unchanged from a year ago, said Rob Levy, vice president of research and measurement with Financial Health Network.
The study adds to a body of research indicating that millions of American families have trouble making ends meet even a decade after the Great Recession and as unemployment has sunk to its lowest level in decades.
For instance, centrist think tank the Urban Institute has found that 4 in 10 Americans struggle to pay for basic needs such as groceries or housing. And a Zillow report released Thursday found that roughly a quarter of renters say that affording their payments is difficult or very difficult.
Not only the poor face financial pressure, the new study suggests. Almost 20% of people earning between $30,000 and $100,000 said they spent more than they earned — an increase of more than 4 percentage points from last year.
“That suggests there is a real squeeze being put on the middle class,” Levy said. “Income is not keeping pace with expenses.”
Women are also feeling the strain more than men, the study found. About 20% of women said their finances cause significant stress, compared with roughly 13% of men who said so.
Overall, about 3 in 10 Americans are considered financially healthy, the findings show. That means they aren’t struggling on any of the objectives measured by the Financial Health Network, which are spending, saving, borrowing and financial planning.
“It’s not just about income,” Levy noted. “You can be low income and be financially healthy.”
About 17% are considered financially vulnerable, which means they are struggling to meet all aspects of their financial lives, the study found. About 54% are “coping,” which means they are failing to manage at least one of the financial factors.
Changes in fortune
Americans are also reporting big swings in their financial fortunes — both positive and negative, the study found. Because the researchers surveyed about 4,300 of the respondents who participated in last year’s study, they were able to track how their financial stability changed, Levy said.
The nonprofit based the assessment on a 100-point score of financial health. More than half of the longitudinal sample experienced a median swing of 7.5 points, they found. That could reflect a positive change, like a raise, or a negative one, like losing a job.
“We didn’t think people’s lives would change that much,” he said. “It’s like a game of ‘Chutes and Ladders,’ which has implications for stress.”
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