As the safety net shrinks again, vulnerable Americans are changing the way they plan

Young Americans and Americans of color say they have little money left after paying bills, and find it hard to plan ahead

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  • Ben Meyerson Newsletter editor
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The pandemic has now stretched on long enough that it has outlasted one of the U.S. government’s major tools for boosting the economy: expanded unemployment benefits, which expired at the beginning of September. But new data from the Ipsos Coronavirus Consumer Tracker shows that many Americans are still feeling the economic hurt – in fact, they may be feeling it now more than ever.

Throughout the pandemic, Ipsos has asked people if they have enough money to spend on the things they want after paying their bills; today, 40% of Americans say they don’t, the highest number since we began asking at the beginning of the pandemic.

This is especially true for younger people, lower-income people, and Black and Hispanic Americans: A majority of each group say they don’t have any disposable income.

  • 53% of 18- to 34-year-olds say they have no money left over after paying their bills, compared to 39% of 35- to 54-year-olds and 29% of those over 55
  • 53% of Black Americans and 52% of Hispanic Americans say the same, compared to only 35% of white Americans and 31% of Asian Americans
  • Low-income Americans feel the same: 54% of those in households making less than $50,000 say they don’t have disposable income, compared to 36% of those making $50K to 100K, and 16% of those making more than $100K

This has profound implications for the economy at a time when instability reigns and many Americans have retreated to their habits from earlier in the pandemic, according to Jason Brown, a president and chief client officer at Ipsos.

“The most economically vulnerable groups of Americans are showing more and more stress as the delta variant circulates at the same time that the government pulls back some of its most aggressive relief plans,” Brown said. “Disposable income is a funny, flexible term – but it has serious implications for Americans when major expenses come due.”

Indeed, dive beyond “disposable income” and just under half of all Americans (49%) say they have enough saved for an unplanned expense like home or car repairs – down since we last asked in February. Again, Black Americans, younger Americans and Hispanic Americans feel less prepared:

  • Only one in three Black Americans (32%) say they have enough saved for an unplanned expense; 43% of Hispanic Americans, 53% of white Americans and 57% of Asian Americans say the same.
  • 40% of 18- to 34-year-olds say they have enough saved, compared to 50% of 35- to 54-year-olds and 55% of those over 55.

This economic uncertainty is changing the way those most affected by the pandemic are planning for the future, though in different ways. Those who are better off – white Americans, older Americans and wealthier Americans – are most likely to say they haven’t changed the way they’ve planned. Groups that have been hit harder have shifted the way they think about the future, but in different ways.

  • Young adults ages 18 to 34, low-income Americans, Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans are all most likely to say they find it difficult to plan ahead – one in three people in each group
  • But a significant number of young Americans and Black and Hispanic Americans also say they are planning FURTHER ahead: One in four 18- to 34-year-olds, Black Americans and Hispanic Americans
  • Meanwhile, white, wealthier and older Americans are most likely to say their planning hasn’t changed since the pandemic: At least two in five Americans making more than $100,000 (43%), older than 55 (40%) and white Americans (40%)

As the government’s broadened social safety net starts to shrink again, the next few months will be crucial. These vulnerable Americans will be hurt by inflation, and while they’re still being helped by pandemic-era assistance like the expanded child tax credit, many of these policies have an uncertain future. No wonder many find it hard to plan.

The author(s)

  • Ben Meyerson Newsletter editor

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