With unemployment rates remaining staggeringly high and debates about the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill, Americans remain worried about the economy, according to a report from First Command.
First Command’s Financial Behaviors Index declined six points during the second quarter, a sign that the financial attitudes of middle-class Americans is eroding.
In December 2010, the index climbed to a two-year high of 101, but has been falling in 2011. From April to May, the index slid from 90 to 86 due to a substantial decline in the behaviors sub-index, which was driven by a decrease of nearly $350 in the average amount Americans put into retirement accounts (from $940 in April to $598 in May). The attitudes sub-index has also fallen since the beginning of the year, reaching a two-year low of 82 in April, First Command reported.
“Dealing with a downbeat economy is becoming a way of life for middle-class Americans,” said Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command Financial Services. “The June survey results illustrate that nearly two-thirds of consumers believe that the U.S. is currently experiencing a double-dip recession, a stark increase from the 50% who shared this same sentiment last year. They are working hard to live more frugally and keep their household spending in check. But they are still struggling with savings and debt.”
Americans are being forced to use loans and savings as a way to pay for items during the downturn. Almost half of consumers report taking out at least one loan in the last year, and one third report taking out at least one loan in the last six months, the report found.
Meanwhile, 92% of Americans have some sort of debt. Currently there is a record low savings-to-debt ratio (defined as the amount of total savings compared to the amount of total debt a family carries), First Command reports. In May, only 27% of families reported having a positive savings-to-debt ratio, the lowest percentage in the history of the Index.
“The decline in the savings-to-debt ratio is a matter of great concern,” Spiker said. “Our research has consistently demonstrated that the savings-to-debt ratio is perhaps the most significant contributor to feelings of financial optimism. As one’s savings-to-debt ratio increases—meaning more savings, less debt—feelings of financial security increase, and feelings of being financially stretched decrease. A positive savings-to-debt ratio makes a person feel better about the present and more optimistic about the future.
Ruthie Ackerman writes for American Banker.