Most Americans aren't financially healthy despite booming economy, survey finds

A worker at an American Rhino apparel store folds items this week in Boston. Despite low unemployment, a survey by USC and the Center for Financial Services Innovation found a minority of Americans have their financial house in order, while most are still struggling financially. (Steven Senne / AP)

The economy is growing, unemployment is low and, lately, workers are starting to see some wage gains.

But a new survey from USC and the nonprofit Center for Financial Services Innovation makes the case that, despite an overall healthy-looking economy, many Americans are struggling to save, pay bills and remain on firm financial footing.

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The survey, called the Financial Health Pulse, found that only 28% of American households are financially healthy, meaning they are in control of their spending, are saving money, don’t have too much debt and are planning for the unforeseen.

An additional 55% are financially coping — struggling in a few areas, but doing OK in others — while 17% are classified as financially vulnerable, meaning they are struggling with most aspects of their financial lives.

Jennifer Tescher, CFSI’s chief executive, said the goal of the survey, which the group plans to do annually, is to get a sense of how Americans are doing without relying on the kind of high-level economic data that policymakers typically focus on.

“There’s this rosy-eyed view of what’s going on in the economy that does not comport with what’s going on on Main Street,” she said. “There’s a significant disconnect between the data and people’s lives.”

Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

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Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

  • 45% of Americans said they don’t have enough savings to cover three months of expenses and 26% said they don’t have enough for a single month.

  • 30% said they have more debt than they can manage.

  • 16% said they have delayed seeking medical care because of debt.

  • 17% said they don’t plan ahead financially.

Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

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Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

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Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

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Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

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Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 Percentage Less than income About equal to income More than income 53% 31 16 How much did your household spend last year? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

All bills Nearly all Most Some or few 64% 18 10 9 Percentage All bills Nearly all Most Some or few 64% 18 10 9 Are you able to pay bills on time? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

All bills Nearly all Most Some or few 64% 18 10 9 Percentage All bills Nearly all Most Some or few 64% 18 10 9 Are you able to pay bills on time? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

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All bills Nearly all Most Some or few 64% 18 10 9 Percentage All bills Nearly all Most Some or few 64% 18 10 9 Are you able to pay bills on time? Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: CFSI Financial Health Pulse survey

2:35 p.m.: This article was updated with background on the Federal Reserve’s annual survey, and comments from researcher Stephen Miller and economist Chris Thornberg.

This article was originally published at 1 p.m.

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