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Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
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Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015


The results of the 2015 Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking underscore reasons for optimism as well as concern about the financial well-being of individuals and their families. On one hand, when looking at aggregate-level results for the population, there are signs of improvement across a number of dimensions. On the vast majority of financial measures for which comparisons can be made between the three years of survey data, the most recent results indicate that individuals' financial picture is similar to, or better than, it was in the two earlier years. Relative to the previous two surveys, more respondents are saving at least some of their income; a slightly larger fraction say that they would be able to cover a $400 expense without borrowing money or selling something; and more adults believe that they have the skills needed for the types of jobs that they want right now. Additionally, more individuals say that they are at least "doing okay" financially in 2015 than was observed in either of the earlier years.

On the other hand, while the aggregate picture presents evidence of improving household finances, the results also accentuate concerns that these improvements are not necessarily being experienced universally. While more respondents indicate that their well-being improved in the prior year than say that it declined, most of this improvement is reported by respondents who attended college--suggesting that those with lower levels of education are still struggling. Additionally, many respondents report that they experienced some level of volatility in their income and expenses, and among those with lower incomes, this volatility often results in difficulty paying monthly bills.

The survey results also highlight the extent to which economic challenges are particularly prevalent among racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with lower incomes or less education, and those who come from modest socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, respondents making under $40,000 per year are more likely to say that they lack access to the traditional banking system; Hispanic and non-Hispanic black respondents are less likely to be able to handle a $400 emergency expense without borrowing; and individuals whose parents did not go to college are disproportionately likely to go to a for-profit institution where the self-reported value of degrees are lower, if they go to college at all.

There is little question that, on the whole, the financial well-being of Americans seems to have improved relative to the prior year and relative to the year before that. However, the many pockets of consumers who display elevated levels of financial stress and who are at risk for financial disruption in the case of further economic hardships remain a concern. While the three years of data from the SHED cannot determine whether these elevated risks for some consumers are a residual impact from the Great Recession, or reflect the typical state of their finances, the results highlight the need to continue to monitor these populations and track the extent to which they are, or are not, fully benefitting from broader economic growth.

Last update: June 14, 2016

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