Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2019, Featuring Supplemental Data from April 2020 May 2020

This report describes the responses to the 2019 Survey
of Household Economics and Decisionmaking
(SHED) as well as responses to a follow-up survey
conducted in April 2020. The Federal Reserve Board
has fielded this survey each fall since 2013 to understand
the wide range of financial challenges and
opportunities facing families in the United States.1
The findings in this report primarily reflect the
financial circumstances of families in the United
States in late 2019, prior to the onset of COVID-19
and the associated financial disruptions.2 At that
time, overall financial well-being was similar to that
seen in 2018 for most measures in the survey. Consistent
with economic improvements over the prior six
years, families were faring substantially better than
they were when the survey began in 2013. Even so,
the results highlight areas of persistent challenges
and economic disparities across financial measures,
even before the spread of COVID-19 in the United
States. In particular, the substantial disparities in
overall well-being by race and ethnicity remained in
2019, and the disparity by education widened in
recent years.
Yet, while most adults were faring reasonably well
financially, results also show that a substantial
minority of adults were financially vulnerable at the
time of the survey and either could not pay their
current month’s bills in full or would have struggled
to do so if faced with an emergency expense as small
as $400. Even fewer had three months of emergency
savings to cover expenses in the event of a job loss.
This highlights the precarious financial situation that
some families were in prior to the COVID-19
pandemic.
The survey also explored long-run financial circumstances,
including returns to education, housing satisfaction,
and retirement savings. It included several
new topics that have not been asked in previous
years of the survey. In 2019, these new topics
included self-perceptions of discrimination, differences
in work locations by education level, and the
repercussions of outstanding legal expenses and
court costs. Additionally, the survey continued to
monitor emerging issues that may be important to
the economy in the future, such as experiences working
in the gig economy. Each of these topics is
described in this report.
Although the survey results reflect the financial situation
at the end of 2019, many families have had
their financial lives disrupted in 2020 due to
COVID-19 and measures implemented to limit its
spread. To understand the extent of these disruptions,
the Federal Reserve Board also implemented
a smaller follow-up survey in the first week of
April 2020 with some of the same questions that
were asked in the fall as well as several new questions
focused on recent events. This supplemental survey
demonstrated the substantial number of people
experiencing layoffs or reductions in hours worked
and the extent to which some families dealing with
layoffs have struggled to pay their monthly bills. Yet,
it also indicated that those not experiencing employment
disruptions generally were still faring relatively
well financially as of early April.

However, differences in financial wellbeing
remained—or had widened slightly—across education
levels and across racial and ethnic groups.
• Seventy-five percent of adults were either doing
okay or living comfortably financially. This result
was unchanged from 2018 and was 13 percentage
points higher than in 2013.
• Adults with a bachelor’s degree or more were
significantly more likely to be doing at least okay
financially (88 percent) than those with a high
school degree or less (63 percent). This gap in
economic well-being by education widened by
6 percentage points since 2017 and, in 2019, was
similar to that seen in the first year of the survey
in 2013.
• Nearly 8 in 10 white adults and two-thirds of black
and Hispanic adults were at least doing okay
financially in 2019. The gaps in economic wellbeing
by race and ethnicity remained at least as
large as they were in 2013, even as the economy
has strengthened and overall well-being improved.
• Sixty-three percent of respondents rated their local
economic conditions as “good” or “excellent” in
2019, with the rest rating conditions as “poor” or
“only fair.” This was nearly unchanged from 2018.
Income
Changes in family income from month to month
remained a source of financial strain for some individuals.
Financial support from family or friends, and
especially parents, is one way that some people covered
expenses.
• Three in 10 adults had family income that varied
from month to month, with higher rates of volatility
among workers in the construction or leisure
and hospitality industries.
• One in 10 adults struggled to pay their bills
because of monthly changes in income. Those with
less confidence in their access to credit were more
likely to report financial hardship due to income
volatility.
• Ten percent of adults received financial assistance
from someone living outside their home. Occasionally,
people both gave and received support, as 2 in
10 people who received financial support also provided
financial support to someone else.
Employment
Although most adults were working as much as they
wanted to, many people were not working full time and
wanted more work. Many adults also performed gig
activities in the month before the survey, although few
who participated in the gig economy were doing so as a
primary source of income.
• Eighteen percent of adults—including 25 percent
of black and Hispanic adults—were not working
full time and wanted more work in late 2019.
• Among women ages 25 to 54 who were not working,
46 percent said that childcare or other family
obligations contributed to their employment decision.
Among similarly aged men who were not
working, a smaller 23 percent cited childcare or
other family obligations.
• Three in 10 adults engaged in at least one gig
activity, or informal work, in the month before the
survey, although many of those people spent a
relatively small amount of time doing so. One in
10 adults spent 20 hours or more per month
on gigs.

• Technology did not drive most of the gig work
captured in the survey. Thirteen percent of all
people who engaged in gig activities used an app or
online platform to find customers and receive payments.
The rest found customers or received payments
some other way.

Dealing with Unexpected Expenses
The survey continued to observe improvements in preparedness
for small financial setbacks, although some
adults were unable to pay all of their bills in full or
would have been unable to do so if a modest emergency
arose. Medical expenses continued to be a concern for
some families in 2019, as many adults skipped medical
care or had outstanding bills from medical treatments.
• Sixteen percent of adults were not able to pay all
of their current month’s bills in full at the time of
the survey. Another 12 percent of adults said they
would be unable to pay all of their current month’s
bills if they had an unexpected $400 expense that
they had to pay.
• If faced with an unexpected expense of $400,
63 percent of adults said they would cover it completely
using cash or a credit card paid off at the

end of the month—an improvement from half who
would have paid this way in 2013.
• Twenty-five percent of adults skipped medical
care, such as a visit to a doctor or dentist, in 2019
because they were unable to afford the cost, and
22 percent incurred a major unexpected medical
expense during the year.
• Eighteen percent of adults had unpaid debt from
their own medical care or from medical care for a
family member.

Banking and Credit
Most adults had a bank account and were able to
obtain credit from mainstream sources at the end of

  1. However, substantial gaps in banking and credit
    services existed—especially among racial and ethnic
    minorities.
    • Six percent of adults did not have a bank account,
    including 14 percent of black adults, 10 percent of
    Hispanic adults, and 3 percent of white adults.
    • Six in 10 adults were very confident that they
    would be approved for a new credit card if they
    applied. However, 4 in 10 black adults had this
    level of confidence in their ability to obtain a new
    credit card.
    • Expectations for adverse credit outcomes can be a
    barrier to credit access. More than 1 in 10 adults
    chose not to apply for credit they wanted because
    they expected the application to be denied.
    Housing
    Most adults were satisfied with their housing and most
    own their own homes. However, younger adults, as well
    as those who are black or Hispanic, were less likely to
    own their own homes and to say that they were satisfied
    with their housing than the overall average. Renters
    faced varying degrees of housing strain, including
    some who report moving due to a threat of eviction.
    • Nine in 10 adults overall were satisfied with their
    neighborhood, and nearly that many were generally
    satisfied with their own housing. Eight in 10
    black and Hispanic adults were satisfied with their
    housing.
    • Renters often said that they did not own because
    of difficulty getting a mortgage. Sixty-four percent
    of renters said that an inability to qualify for a
    mortgage or to come up with a down payment
    contributed to their decision to rent.
    • Three percent of non-homeowners (about 3 million
    adults) said that their most recent move in the
    past two years was due to an eviction or the threat
    of an eviction. Moves resulting from an eviction or
    the threat of an eviction were twice as likely among
    non-homeowners without a child as they were
    among other non-homeowners.

Higher Education
Economic well-being generally rises with education,
and most of those holding at least an associate degree
said that attending college paid off. However, the likelihood
of pursuing and completing higher education
varied by race, ethnicity, and family background—in
part due to additional barriers faced when pursuing
such education.
• Among people with at least a bachelor’s degree,
7 in 10 felt that their educational investment paid
off financially, whereas 3 in 10 of those who
started college but did not complete at least an
associate degree shared this view.
• Many attendees of for-profit institutions would
have chosen a different school if given the chance
to make their decision again. Fifty-four percent of
those who attended a for-profit institution would
like to have attended a different school, versus onefourth
of those attending a private not-for-profit
or public institution.
• More than 6 in 10 black and Hispanic young
adults who left or did not begin college did so, at
least in part, to support their families financially.
Needing to work to provide financial support was
a reason for not starting or not completing a certificate
or a degree for 4 in 10 white young adults.

Housing
Most adults were satisfied with their housing and most
own their own homes. However, younger adults, as well
as those who are black or Hispanic, were less likely to
own their own homes and to say that they were satisfied
with their housing than the overall average. Renters
faced varying degrees of housing strain, including
some who report moving due to a threat of eviction.
• Nine in 10 adults overall were satisfied with their
neighborhood, and nearly that many were generally
satisfied with their own housing. Eight in 10
black and Hispanic adults were satisfied with their
housing.
• Renters often said that they did not own because
of difficulty getting a mortgage. Sixty-four percent
of renters said that an inability to qualify for a
mortgage or to come up with a down payment
contributed to their decision to rent.
• Three percent of non-homeowners (about 3 million
adults) said that their most recent move in the
past two years was due to an eviction or the threat
of an eviction. Moves resulting from an eviction or
the threat of an eviction were twice as likely among
non-homeowners without a child as they were
among other non-homeowners.

Student Loans and Other Education
Debt
Over half of young adults under age 30 who went to
college took on some debt to pay for their education.
Most borrowers were current on their payments or had
successfully paid off their loans. However, those who
failed to complete a degree, and those who attended
for-profit institutions, were more likely to have fallen
behind on their payments.

Among adults who had outstanding debt for their
own education in 2019, the typical amount of debt
reported in the survey was between $20,000 and
$24,999.
• Although most education debt is in the form of
student loans, this is not always the case. Twentythree
percent of people with outstanding debt
from their education indicated that at least part of
this debt was on a credit card.
• Among borrowers under age 40, those who were
first-generation college students were more than
twice as likely to be behind on their payments as
those with a parent who completed a bachelor’s
degree.

Retirement
While preferences play a role in the timing of retirement
for the majority of retirees, unanticipated life
events contributed to the timing of retirement for a
substantial share. Although most people save for their
retirement and manage these savings on their own, at
the end of 2019 many non-retirees were struggling to
save, and those who did so frequently expressed discomfort
in making investment decisions.
• Collectively, health problems, caring for family,
and forced retirements contributed to the timing
of retirement for 47 percent of retirees.
• One-fourth of non-retirees indicated that they
have no retirement savings, and fewer than 4 in 10
non-retirees felt that their retirement savings are
on track.
• Nearly 6 in 10 non-retirees with self-directed retirement
savings expressed low levels of comfort about
making retirement decisions.


Financial Repercussions from
COVID-19
The Federal Reserve fielded a supplemental survey in
April 2020 to obtain an updated perspective on financial
conditions. This survey was conducted after the
passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic
Security (CARES) Act, but before most benefits were
received. This supplemental survey found that nearly
one-fifth of adults experienced either a job loss or a
reduction in their hours in March 2020 as the spread
of COVID-19 intensified in the United States. Over
one-third of those who experienced a job loss or reduction
in hours expect to have difficulty with their
monthly bills.
• Thirteen percent of adults indicated that they lost
a job in March 2020, and an additional 6 percent
said that they had their hours reduced or took
unpaid leave.
• Among those who lost a job in March 2020,
91 percent anticipated that they would return to
work for the same employer or indicated that they
had already returned to work.
• Eighteen percent of adults did not expect to be
able to pay all of their April bills in full. Among
those who lost a job or had their hours reduced,
35 percent did not expect to be able to pay all bills
in full.

Current Financial Situation
Three-quarters of adults at the end of 2019 indicated
they were either “doing okay” financially (39 percent)
or “living comfortably” (36 percent), matching
the rate in 2018. The rest were either “just getting
by” (18 percent) or “finding it difficult to get by”
(6 percent). The 75 percent of adults doing at least
okay financially in 2019 remained well above the
62 percent doing at least this well in 2013 (figure 1).
However, based on the results of a follow-up survey
conducted in early April 2020, it is apparent that
financial conditions have declined since that time
(see box 1 and the “Financial Repercussions from
COVID-19” section of this report).
Despite the positive trend in overall well-being
through 2019, differences across education groups
remained substantial and grew in recent years.
Adults with a bachelor’s degree or more were significantly
more likely to be doing at least okay financially
(88 percent) than those with a high school
degree or less (63 percent). This 25 percentage point
difference in financial well-being by education grew
by 6 percentage points over the two years from
2017 to 2019. However, the gap in 2019 was not statistically
different from that observed in the first year
of the survey in 2013 (figure 2).
Differences in financial well-being across racial and
ethnic groups also persisted in 2019. Two-thirds of
black and Hispanic adults reported that they were
doing at least okay financially, compared to 8 in 10
white adults.4 These differences in well-being by race
and ethnicity were statistically unchanged relative to

  1. Although white, black, and Hispanic adults all
    experienced improvements in their financial well-

Box 1. Overall Economic Well-Being in April 2020
Although financial circumstances were generally
positive for most adults at the end of 2019, financial
conditions changed dramatically for many families
beginning in March 2020 as the spread of COVID-19
intensified in the United States. For instance, according
to the Department of Labor, record numbers of
people filed initial claims for unemployment insurance
benefits in the final weeks of March and the
beginning of April.1 Recognizing this changing financial
landscape, the Federal Reserve Board fielded a
supplemental survey (“April supplement”) over the
first weekend of April 2020 to obtain an updated picture
of families’ financial situations.
Consistent with the employment declines seen in
other data, results from the April supplement point to
the substantial job losses that were occurring. Thirteen
percent of adults reported that they lost a job or
were furloughed between March 1, 2020, and the
time at which they completed the survey during the
first weekend in April. However, as discussed further
in the “Financial Repercussions from COVID-19” section
of this report, most of those who lost a job
expected in early April that the layoff would be temporary
and that they would return to the same
employer. An additional 6 percent of adults reported
that they had their hours reduced or took unpaid
leave.
Similarly, fewer adults reported that they were at least
doing okay financially in April 2020 than had been the
case six months earlier. In the April supplement,
72 percent of adults were either “doing okay” financially
(43 percent) or “living comfortably” (29 percent).
This is down from the 75 percent of adults who were
at least doing okay financially in the fall of 2019 and
the 36 percent who were living comfortably.
These declines in self-reported financial well-being
were concentrated among those who lost a job or
had their hours cut (figure A). Among those adults not
experiencing a job loss or reduction in hours, 76 percent
were doing at least okay financially in April,
which is similar to the overall share of adults who
reported doing at least okay financially in the fall.
Among those who experienced a job loss or hours
reduction, 51 percent indicated that they were doing
at least okay financially in April, whereas 48 percent
were either struggling to get by or just getting by.
Recognizing that the April supplement was fielded
relatively soon after families began to experience the
financial repercussions of COVID-19, these results
may not reflect the full extent of financial hardship
that will result from the pandemic. Nevertheless, they
provide an initial indication of how families were faring
relative to the fall of 2019 as the economic environment
changed around the country.
For more information, see “Financial

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