Fed: U.S. households see slight economic improvement over last year

May 23, 2019

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three quarters of Americans surveyed by the Federal Reserve last year said they were living comfortably or doing OK in 2018, roughly unchanged from the year before and continuing a six-year trend that has reflected the ongoing economic recovery and falling unemployment, the Fed reported on Thursday.

The Fed’s latest Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking pointed to some continuing gaps in the recovery.

Around 12% of respondents still said they could not cover an unexpected $400 expense, and a third reported they were “either unable to pay their bills or are one modest financial setback away from hardship.”

That was a decline from 33% in the year before, but still a sign of fragility.

In addition, “another year of economic expansion and the low national unemployment rates did little to narrow the persistent economic disparities by race, education, and geography,” the Fed reported, with blacks and the less educated tending to feel less well off than whites or those with college degrees.

Still the survey, which covered 11,440 adults and was weighted to be nationally representative, noted a steady sense of economic improvement as the U.S. economic recovery approached the decade mark.

The Fed first conducted the survey in 2013 and at that point only 62% of respondents felt they were at least doing OK.

The figure hit 70% in 2016, the last year of President Obama’s administration, and jumped to 74% in 2017 in the first year of the Trump administration.

Despite rising wages and tax cuts last year, the change in households’ overall feelings about their finances “was small relative to some previous years” and not considered statistically significant from zero.

Fed officials still said the results were generally positive and reflective of a growing economy.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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