Many Americans don’t have enough emergency cash

Posted at 1:08 PM, Dec 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-07 13:08:54-05

It could be an emergency room visit for your kid. Maybe a deer ran in front of your car. Or you lose your job, but need to make a mortgage payment.

Curveballs can come any time. But a lot of Americans aren’t ready for them financially, according to new research from the New York Federal Reserve.

The average American age 40 or under says there’s nearly a 50% chance they would not be able come up with $2,000 next month if there were an emergency.

“This may, I think in some ways, underscore the stress that people feel,” New York Fed President William Dudley told reporters at a recent press conference. “It may underscore the fact that people don’t feel they have complete control of their destiny.”

Overall, Americans said in October there was a 34% chance they couldn’t come up with that amount of money if they had to. That’s down from a 42% chance in 2013 when the New York Fed first started asking the question in its Survey of Consumer Expectations. But it’s still up from 32% in February.

In many ways, the U.S. economy looks good. Unemployment is at 4.6%, its lowest mark since 2007, home prices are rising and Americans finally got a raise last year. Consumer confidence is high too. The economy has grown, albeit slowly, for seven straight years — a long time for an expansion.

Yet those positive headline numbers stand in sharp contrast with how many Americans feel about their pocketbooks. It’s this financial unease that many cite as a key reason why Americans chose to vote for President-elect Donald Trump, hoping he will create better-paying jobs.

Although Americans are saving more often now than they did prior to the recession, many still don’t have enough cash to cover the next emergency.

It’s worse for Americans age 40 and under, who seem to be feeling more stress as the years go by. A year ago, there was a 33% chance the average American in that age group couldn’t come up with the emergency cash. In October, that figure rose to 46%.

“It would be more useful if people had more precautionary savings…life is uncertain and things happen,” Dudley said.