The economic well-being of average Americans


Last month, the Federal Reserve released a new report: Economic Well-Being of US Households in 2021 [PDF]. This annual survey gauges American financial health and attitudes. The 2021 edition was conducted last November.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Seventy-eight percent of adults were either doing okay or living comfortably financially, the highest share with this level of financial well-being since the survey began in 2013.
  • Fifteen percent of adults with income less than $50,000 struggled to pay their bills because of varying monthly income.
  • Fifteen percent of workers said they were in a different job than twelve months earlier. Just over six in ten people who changed jobs said their new job was better overall, compared with one in ten who said that it was worse.
  • Sixty-eight percent of adults said they would cover a $400 emergency expense exclusively using cash or its equivalent, up from 50 percent who would pay this way when the survey began in 2013. (Note that this survey is the original source of this oft- quoted statistic.)
  • Six percent of adults did not have a bank account. Eleven percent of adults with a bank account paid an overdraft fee in the previous twelve months.

These little nuggets of info are interesting, sure, but what I find even more interesting are the charts and graphs documenting long-term trends.

The Demographics of Economic Well-Being

Here, for instance, is a chart that shows how people feel about their current financial situation:

In 2021, 78% of adults in this country reported “doing okay” or “living comfortably”. That’s up significantly from when this survey started in 2013.

The next logical question, of course, is how different demographics feel about their financial situation. The Fed report offers some insight into that.

Here’s a chart that shows (once again) the value of a college degree).

Economic well-being by education level

Although it’s popular in some corners to bad-mouth college degrees, according to the US Census Bureau (and many other…



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