Editors note: The American Family Survey is an annual, nationwide poll from the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. It studies how Americans think about marriage and parenting, their family lives, and their opinions about the most important issues affecting families today. Read more about the surveys findings at DeseretNews.com/american-family-survey.
The newly released 2016 American Family Survey suggests that despite reports the economy has recovered, the financial footing of many families is tenuous and they are ill-prepared for an unexpected expense. The survey, now in its second year, was conducted in late July by YouGov for the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. It includes responses from 3,000 American adults.
When respondents were asked to prioritize a list of top concerns facing families, concern about economic issues was up from last year, including concerns about the cost of raising kids, worries about a lack of good jobs and work stress on parents. Four in 10 Americans say they could survive less than a month on their savings. When it comes to asking for financial help outside of family, 15 percent say they could ask friends, but most (73 percent) say they would rely on themselves. Very few would turn to their religious community or neighbors.
In addition to the survey, the Deseret News, through the Public Interest Network, asked families from around the country about their financial concerns. While many expressed worries about their finances, they also have help they can turn to and are finding ways to make ends meet. Here is a sampling of their responses.
What keeps you up at night concerning family finances?
Susie Snortum, 56; Portland, Oregon
Now that my husband and I both receive disability benefits, we finally have a consistent income that we can work with, even though it's tight. I worry that the kids could lose their jobs and we'd have to support them again. I'm saddened that they can't afford college and that limits their opportunities down the road.
Diane Wahto, 76; Wichita, Kansas
Nothing now. When I was with my first husband, I worried constantly about our finances. He always had a job, but we were always short of money. My first husband and I had three kids to raise. They’re all raised now and self-sufficient, and have been for quite a while. Now my current husband and I live well on Social Security and my pension. We don't have extravagant spending habits, but we own our home and our cars are paid for.
What percentage of your income do you save each month?
Carl Krawitt, 49; Corte Madera, California
When my wife and I were both working, we saved 40-50 percent (of our income). When our son was diagnosed with cancer and my wife was on leave from her job, we saved zero percent. We had only one income and we had new expenses such as specialized childcare for our daughter while our son was in the hospital. We put our retirement savings on hold for a while.
None, although a decade ago we were saving 10 percent and feeling good about it. Now we budget closely to live within our means at one-third the income we had when we were both working.
Mark Muehlhausen, 69; Schaumburg, Illinois
At this time I'm saving about 10 percent. It's getting harder to do this. In the past I have saved from the pension and Social Security income stream. But we're spending that just on living expenses now. Things I want to buy are getting more expensive.
Where have you turned to for financial help in the past?
When I was younger, I borrowed money from family to go to graduate school. I never felt comfortable asking for money, and my family did not ever willingly offer to loan me money. I always had to ask and I felt ashamed. 10 years later, when our son was diagnosed with cancer, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society helped us with many of our questions about finance through their patient services programs.
Fran B. Reed, 78; Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
My local church, but they only help a person once a year. At first, one food bank said I looked too healthy. I showed them my MRI reports of lesions on my brain from domestic abuse, and now they help.
Kathryn Linafelter Johnson, 56, Minneapolis
My parents. I borrowed $5,000 for a down payment on my first home from my dad. It was a gift. My mother loaned me airfare to make a trip to meet relatives in Germany. I am also part of a complex, interwoven support network of unpaid family and friends. Where the economy fails, we pick up with small or large things that help each other out.