Something to celebrate? Three-quarters of Americans say they are doing “okay” financially

High-fives all around.
High-fives all around.
Image: USA Today/Nick Turchiaro
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Good news! Last year, 74% of Americans said they are doing at least “okay” financially, a 12 percentage-point increase over the past five years. That’s according to the latest survey of household economics by the Federal Reserve (pdf). This improving self-assessment of finances mirrors the positive trend in US employment, with the jobless rate recently dropping to its lowest level in almost 18 years.

Notably, the improvement in individuals’ perceived economic situation stretched across people with different education levels. Last year, more people were asking for pay rises, getting raises, applying for new jobs, and starting new jobs than in 2016. The share of people who said they were finding it “difficult to get by” fell to 7% in 2017, from 9% the year before and 13% in 2013. Still, black and Hispanic people reported lower levels of financial wellbeing than white Americans.

While this report shows a national improvement in personal financial wellbeing, there are still worrying trends apparent in the details. The labor market may be stronger than before, but it remains precarious for many. In 2017, 40% of people said they could not cover a $400 emergency expense, or would do so by borrowing or selling something. Even though this is down from 50% in 2013, it’s still “troubling,” the Fed says. Meanwhile, a quarter of people under 30 receive financial support from someone they don’t live with.

One in six workers have irregular schedules that they didn’t request, 10% of workers receive their schedule less than a week in advance, and 30% of adults have a family income that varies each month.

There are also more people supplementing their incomes with gig work, which increased from 28% in 2016 to 31% last year. Most of this increase isn’t coming from internet- or computer-based work, which includes ride-sharing apps like Uber, but rather offline activities, such as childcare or cleaning. Offline gig work jumped three percentage points last year, to 20%. There is a split across education levels, as people with high school education or lower are more likely to do offline gig work, compared to people with bachelor’s degrees doing more online gig work, ranging from low-paid Uber driving to more lucrative freelance work.

For the most part, gig work is a modest share of the typical household’s income. Three-quarters of gig workers said this work makes up 10% or less of their family income. But even with only small amounts coming in, the number of people who said this additional income is important to them rose from the year before.