How fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity varies

De­mo­graphic di­vides are huge, new sur­vey finds

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND - By Josh Boak and Han­nah Finger­hut

WASH­ING­TON — Just how fi­nan­cially se­cure you feel de­pends on your age, your race, your ed­u­ca­tion and — per­haps not sur­pris­ingly — your in­come.

A new sur­vey by The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search shows that col­lege graduates feel far more con­fi­dent than high school graduates that they could af­ford an emer­gency $1,000 ex­pense.

Peo­ple ages 18 to 29 are more op­ti­mistic about find­ing a good job than those in their 60s are.

But Amer­i­cans in their 60s are more con­fi­dent than adults un­der 30 are about af­ford­ing credit card and other ex­penses.

Most white Amer­i­cans say they can man­age their hous­ing costs; blacks and His­pan­ics are far less con­fi­dent that they can keep up.

The poll’s find­ings re­flect the sharp de­mo­graphic di­vides in the U.S. econ­omy. The na­tion’s pros­per­ity since the Great Re­ces­sion ended nearly a decade ago has ben­e­fited some groups of peo­ple far more than oth­ers and is ob­scur­ing eco­nomic soft spots caused by a per­sis­tent wealth gap.

Over­all, about 6 in 10 Amer­i­cans de­scribe their per­sonal fi­nances as good. Most of the rest say they’re in poor shape fi­nan­cially.

The na­tion’s unem­ploy­ment rate is a healthy 4 per­cent, the pace of hir­ing has ac­cel­er­ated in re­cent months and aver­age hourly earn­ings have risen 3.2 per­cent over the past 12 months.

Yet what­ever fi­nan­cial con­fi­dence peo­ple feel de­pends on their in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances and chal­lenges. And com­pared with last year, fewer Amer­i­cans over­all ex­pect the good econ­omy to last in 2019.

Some of the doubts re­flect sour­ing opin­ions of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who par­tially shut down the gov­ern­ment for 35 days over his de­mand for a wall along the south­ern U.S. border with Mex­ico.

Though Trump failed to se­cure his re­quested $5.7 bil­lion, the re­sult­ing tem­po­rary stand­off de­prived many gov­ern­ment work­ers of pay­checks and raised doubts about the pres­i­dent’s eco­nomic stew­ard­ship.

The poll shows that Trump’s rat­ing on han­dling the econ­omy — a strength through­out his pres­i­dency — fell to 44 per­cent in Jan­uary from 50 per­cent in De­cem­ber. His over­all ap­proval rat­ing in the poll was 34 per­cent.

“I can’t say he’s been all bad on the econ­omy,” said Ellen Collins, 70, of Cen­ter­ville, Ohio. “But he’s a child. He’s ego­tis­ti­cal.”

Forty-four per­cent say they think the econ­omy will worsen over the next year. About a quar­ter (27 per­cent) say the econ­omy will im­prove; just as many think it will stay the same.

That’s in con­trast to a year ago, when ex­pec­ta­tions of the year ahead were al­most evenly split: 33 per­cent said then that they thought con­di­tions would de­te­ri­o­rate, and 34 per­cent ex­pected them to im­prove.

Collins said the stock mar­ket’s sell-off in the clos­ing months of 2018, likely fu­eled in part by Trump’s trade war with China, hurt her re­tire­ment sav­ings. She fig­ures, though, that stocks will ul­ti­mately re­bound to cover those losses.

Collins, a re­tired teacher and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy spe­cial­ist, stressed how for­tu­nate she felt to have enough sav­ings and in­sur­ance to cover the costs of two years of chemo­ther­apy treat­ments she needed for can­cer.

“I don’t know what peo­ple who don’t have in­sur­ance do,” she said.

Health care costs and other un­ex­pected ex­penses are a source of con­cern for many in the AP-NORC sur­vey. Amer­i­cans who are most likely to feel fi­nan­cially se­cure are those who earn more than $100,000 — nearly dou­ble the me­dian house­hold in­come.

Like­wise, a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion ap­pears to be a sig­nif­i­cant buf­fer against fi­nan­cial risks. A ma­jor­ity of col­lege graduates (58 per­cent) say they’re very con­fi­dent they could af­ford an emer­gency ex­pense of $1,000.

By con­trast, more than half of Amer­i­cans with a high school ed­u­ca­tion or less (54 per­cent) say they have lit­tle or no con­fi­dence that they could pay a sur­prise bill that high.

And while younger work­ers might not have as high a start­ing in­come as pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions did, peo­ple 18 to 29 are more hope­ful about find­ing de­cent jobs than Amer­i­cans in their 60s are.

Thirty-five per­cent of those un­der 30 say they’re very con­fi­dent about hir­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. Just 23 per­cent of those over 60 feel that way.

Even some work­ers in their 50s find it dif­fi­cult to land a job that meets their fi­nan­cial needs.

Sarah Ap­wisch, 52, said she was re­cently laid off as a mar­ket re­searcher only to be re­hired in a new role at the same com­pany at just 60 per­cent of her pre­vi­ous pay.

“I’m hon­estly tak­ing this job be­cause I’m afraid of los­ing health care,” said Ap­wisch, who is mar­ried and lives in the small city of Three Rivers, Mich., where she works re­motely for a com­pany in Chicago.

She says she’s op­ti­mistic about the over­all econ­omy but says the grow­ing role of big data and so­cial me­dia has caused the mar­ket re­search in­dus­try to fall into de­cline.

“If I lose the con­nec­tion with my cur­rent em­ployer, it will be harder for me to get a job in my in­dus­try be­cause most of the jobs are in the big cities,” she said.

Though older Amer­i­cans don’t feel as much job se­cu­rity, most of them do have the ben­e­fit of decades of in­come and sav­ings.

About six in 10 Amer­i­cans in their 60s say they’re con­fi­dent about pay­ing their credit card and other pay­ments, while 43 per­cent of Amer­i­cans un­der 30 feel that way.

On hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity, a stark racial di­vide ex­ists: About six in 10 white Amer­i­cans say they can man­age their hous­ing costs, com­pared with just about a third of black and His­panic Amer­i­cans.

White Amer­i­cans are far like­lier to own a home than are those mi­nor­ity groups, who face ris­ing rents in many high-cost ur­ban ar­eas.

Chris Ed­wards, a 28year-old African-Amer­i­can in Columbia, Mo., said he couldn’t af­ford a ma­jor emer­gency ex­pense. A renter, Ed­wards re­lies on Med­i­caid and in­come from So­cial Se­cu­rity’s dis­abil­ity pro­gram.

If he were hit by a sud­den ex­pense of $400?

“I wouldn’t know,” Ed­wards said. “I wouldn’t know.”

KEVIN HA­GEN/AP

Pedes­tri­ans walk through Times Square. Just how fi­nan­cially se­cure you feel de­pends on your age, race and in­come.

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