Around 28% of U.S. adults have saved “zero dollars” for an emergency, according to a survey released Tuesday of 1,000 U.S. adults by personal savings website Bankrate.com carried out by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, a polling firm. When extrapolated for the entire 234.6 million U.S. adult population, that’s equivalent to 66 million people. That’s down from 29% last year, but up from 24% in five years ago. Another 28% of adults have saved enough money to last six months, up from 22% from last year and a six-year high; 18% had some emergency savings, but not enough for six months. Generation Xers are in the worst position of all generations: 33% of 36- to 51-year-olds haven’t saved anything for an emergency.
Millions of Americans are struggling with student loans, medical bills and other debts, experts say, and although Central bankers hiked their short-term interest rate target last December to a range of 0.25% to 0.50% from near-zero, that’s still a small return for savings left in bank accounts. Many investors are behaving like another imminent rate hike is highly unlikely, MarketWatch columnist Jeff Reeves wrote this month. “Expenses grow faster than many Americans can save during the home-buying, family-raising years,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “Accumulating emergency savings requires establishing the habit.”
Several previous studies also point to Americans living on the edge, due to their seeming inability to save during a time of stagnant wages and rising house prices. Among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57% said they’d used some or all of their savings in the Great Recession, according to a U.S. Federal Reserve survey of over 4,000 adults released in 2014. Of course, paltry savings-account rates don’t encourage people to save either. This is supported by a similar survey by Bankrate.com last year, which also found that 62% of Americans have no savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair.
Members of Generation X, more than any older generation, say they feel more hopeless about their ability to achieve retirement goals and about their overall financial situation, a recent survey by Allianz Life Insurance of 2,000 Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) who had a minimum household income of $30,000 a year. Rising home prices helped build wealth for those who bought homes before the year 2000. But in the mid-2000s, at the height of the property bubble, many in Generation X bought their first home just in time for the collapse of that market.