Various forms of government aid plus changes in spending helped lift savings temporarily for many low- and middle-income earners in 2020. Now late into 2021 the trend is reversing with no additional government aid on the horizon and households facing increasing costs, especially for food, due to supply chain issues.
New data shows 7 in 10 Americans (70%) are stalling out with emergency savings and have the same, less or no emergency savings compared to one year ago. One-fifth of Americans (20%) will run out of emergency savings by the end of the year unless the government issues more assistance, showed results from a new online survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the Financial Health Network and BlackRock’s Emergency Savings Initiative (ESI) among over 2,000 U.S. adults.
In Last Six Months, Black, Hispanic Households Much More Likely to Have Used Emergency Savings
A majority (67%) of Americans who have emergency savings said they have tapped their emergency savings for things like food (34%), gas (29%) and utility bills (25%) in the last six months. Black and Hispanic households were significantly more likely to use emergency savings in the last six months compared to white households (85%, 84% vs. 59%). The survey findings underscore how systemic issues continue to pressure households’ savings in unequal ways. Analysis from ESI in 2020 showed that Black households have an average savings of $600, while White households have an average savings of $4,000.
“Low-income households are having to use their emergency savings for daily necessities like food, rent and utilities leaving them even more vulnerable when true emergencies strike,” Chandni Ohri, Financial Health Network’s ESI program lead, said. “This is a critical time for all employers and policymakers to enable households to build emergency savings.”
Women, Low-Income Households Saving Less Than Last Year
Any savings gains appear to be coming to an end, particularly for women and lower income households who are more likely to say that they are putting less into savings than they did last year. Survey findings include:
- Men (39%) are more likely than women (23%) to be putting more into emergency savings this year than last year
- More than half (53%) of households earning $50,000 or less have less in emergency savings compared to last year or no emergency savings at all
- Households earning under $75,000 are less able to put money into savings now compared to last year than those earning $100,000+ (31% vs 18%)
- Over a quarter of Americans (28%) say that they would only be able to build/add to their emergency savings if the government issued more assistance (e.g., Child Tax Credit, stimulus, unemployment)
- One in five Americans (20%) will run out of emergency savings by the end of this year if the government doesn’t issue more assistance (e.g., Child Tax Credit, stimulus, unemployment). That percentage is higher for parents with children under 18 (34%) than those without (14%), and higher among Hispanic individuals (29%) than White individuals (17%).
Eat or Save? Basic Needs Gobble Up Any Extra for Emergency Savings
Among the 70% of Americans who either don’t have emergency savings or are putting in the same amount or less compared to last year, 85% say they aren’t able to put away as much as they would like because of other costs. Food prices (54%), gas prices (46%) and utility prices (40%) top the list of reasons they can’t put as much into emergency savings as they would like.* Other reasons include:
- Mortgage/Rent – 30%
- Healthcare – 28%
- Coronavirus – 25%
- Giving/lending money to family or friends – 16%
- Job loss – 16%
- Student loans – 11%
- Weather/natural disaster recovery – 8%
- Other – 12%
Workplace, Policymakers Needs to Support Emergency Savings
Emergency savings helps to alleviate the risk of hardships by providing a financial cushion. During the pandemic, analysis from Financial Health Pulse© showed that the risk of hardship declined by 3 percentage points among those who saved for emergencies (23% vs. 26%) after controlling for fixed effects, such as gender and race, and changes in income and expenses.
Increasing levels of emergency savings, requires action by both the private and public sector. Workplace emergency savings programs—which are a focus for ESI’s work—are growing more popular with employers in the wake of the pandemic.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Financial Health Network from September 9-13, 2021 among 2,054 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Respondents could select multiple responses.
BlackRock’s Emergency Savings Initiative
BlackRock announced a $50 million philanthropic commitment to help millions of people living on low to moderate incomes gain access to and increase usage of proven savings strategies and tools – ultimately helping them establish an important safety net. The size and scale of the savings problem requires the knowledge and expertise of established industry experts that are recognized leaders in savings research and interventions on an individual and corporate level. Led by its Social Impact team, BlackRock is partnering with innovative industry experts Common Cents Lab, Commonwealth, and the Financial Health Network to give the initiative a comprehensive and multilayered approach to address the savings crisis.