Friday, May 27, 2011

Economic stress expands

My friend, Jeremy Gregg, Executive Director of the PLAN Fund here in Dallas, reminded me of a Dallas Morning News report that the "average Dallas poor family" spends $800 annually on check cashing and payday lending.  Based on the report below, I expect many other families are forced to use the incredibly expensive financial services as well.  It was a big win on Wednesday when, thanks to the efforts of CitySquare and our partners, the Dallas City Council approved new zoning regulations as a means of beginning to regulate payday lending operations in Dallas.  Read the report and tell me what you think.

Nearly Half of Americans Are ‘Financially Fragile’
May 23, 2011, 2:22 PM ET

Nearly half of Americans say that they definitely or probably couldn’t come up with $2,000 in 30 days, according to new research, raising concerns about the financial fragility of many households.

Many Americans aren’t able to cope with an unexpected bill.  In a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Annamaria Lusardi of the George Washington School of Business, Daniel J. Schneider of Princeton University and Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School used data from the 2009 TNS Global Economic Crisis survey to document widespread financial weakness in the U.S. and other countries.

The survey asked a simple question, “If you were to face a $2,000 unexpected expense in the next month, how would you get the funds you need?” In the U.S., 24.9% of respondents reported being certainly able, 25.1% probably able, 22.2% probably unable and 27.9% certainly unable. The $2,000 figure “reflects the order of magnitude of the cost of an unanticipated major car repair, a large copayment on a medical expense, legal expenses, or a home repair,” the authors write. On a more concrete basis, the authors cite $2,000 as the cost of an auto transmission replacement and research that reported low-income families claim to need about $1500 in savings for emergencies.

Financial fragility isn’t limited to low-income groups. “Households with socioeconomic markers of vulnerability (income, wealth, wealth losses, education, women, families with children) are more likely to be financially fragile, and substantially more so,” the authors write. “The more surprising finding is that a material fraction of seemingly ‘middle class’ Americans also judge themselves to be financially fragile, reflecting either a substantially weaker financial position than one would expect, or a very high level of anxiety or pessimism. Both are important in terms of behavior and for public policy.”

Lusardi, Schneider and Tufano also looked at the ways in which people coped with an unexpected expense. Most would use multiple methods ranging from dipping into savings, asking for help from family and friends, using loans or credits cards, taking out payday loans or selling possessions. “Taken together with those who would pawn their possessions, sell their home, or take out a payday loan, 25.7% of respondents who were asked about coping methods (equal to 18.6% of all respondents) would come up with the funds for an emergency by resorting to what might be seen as extreme measures,” the authors write. “Along with the 27.9% of respondents who report that they could certainly not cope with an emergency, this suggests that approximately 46.5% of all respondents are living very close to the financial edge.”

Meanwhile, Lusardi, Schneider and Tufano also looked at how different countries compare. They consulted with local partners to set the number used in local currency at a comparable level. “Perceived capacity to cope with an emergency is lowest in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, all countries in which 50% of households or more would probably or certainly be unable to come up with the emergency funds,” the authors wrote. “France and Portugal occupy an intermediate position; 46% of respondents in Portugal would certainly or probably be unable to come up with the funds as would 37% of those in France. The highest levels of coping capacity are found in Canada (28% certainly or probably unable), Netherlands (27.9%), and Italy (20%).”


Anonymous said...

What a great blog. I love class warfare!

Jeremy Gregg said...

What class is there in a war that does not promote the welfare of the least and lowest among us? What higher calling could we have than to lift our neighbors above the waves of poverty, above the crushing weight of debt onto islands of opportunity? And then, from such vantage, what man could behold the stars God crafted to guide us and do anything other than reach his hand back down under the tide to lift his brother?

Thank you, Larry and CitySquare, for fueling the light atop the hill.


Anonymous said...

The article points out a real problem. So many simply can't handle any extra financial stress since their finances are already stretched so thin. Lower middle class can become poor all too quickly.

Anon 12:14: how you get 'class warfare' out of a simple statement of facts (...this is what the poll shows ...) is beyond me. You have some strongly tinted ideological glasses on.


Anonymous said...

Immediately upon reading his post, I considered teasing Jeremy for appearing to be a frustrated poet. But just before posting decided to check his bio and found out he is a frustrated poet!

Anonymous said...


I had to pick myself off the floor laughing!

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, the best calling for our neighbors is
"keep your cotton picking hands out of my pocket-
Take your junk to the pawn shop and hock it"