Americans are feeling increasingly optimistic about the country’s economic outlook, but financial stress could be on the horizon, thanks to a lack of planning for a secure financial future.
According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2017 Planning and Progress Study, 43 percent of Americans say the U.S. economy will be better this year than last, up from 31 percent who said the same thing last year. And fewer people believe there will likely be more financial crises on the way: 67 percent of this year’s respondents versus 76 percent in 2016.
This optimism continues on a personal level, as 72 percent say they feel financially secure. On the flip side, however, this means more than a quarter – 28 percent – feel at least some level of financial insecurity. More than half feel their financial security will change in the next year, with 38 percent feeling they’ll be more financially secure next year and 19 percent saying they’ll be less secure.
While most Americans have a positive economic outlook for the next year, their long-term view is a little less optimistic. This year, less than half – 48 percent – of surveyed adults said the “American Dream” is attainable for most people. In 2009, the first year Northwestern Mutual conducted this survey, 58 percent said it was attainable.
“It appears we’re at a financial flashpoint in America,” said Rebekah Barsch, vice president of planning at Northwestern Mutual. “In the near-term, people clearly feel a little better about the stability of the U.S. economy. At the same time, there’s a drop in longer-term optimism around the attainability of the American Dream. Combined, it’s a mix of improvement in the moment with uncertainty about the future.”
Perhaps because of their overall rosy economic outlook, the study found that many Americans are being less disciplined in their financial habits and aren’t setting up long-term financial plans.
Even though most Americans think we’ll face another financial crisis at some point, only half think they need a financial plan that anticipates up and down cycles in the economy, down from 57 percent last year. Also, not everyone who thinks they need a plan designed for highs and lows has one – only 43 percent said they currently have a retirement or financial plan designed to endure market cycles and only 41 percent said their long-term saving strategy includes a mix of high- and low-risk investments, down from 47 percent last year.
Retirement is one of the biggest sources of financial stress among American workers, but too many employers simply offer a 401(k) or similar retirement plan and call it good. Workers need to understand how these accounts work and how they fit into a larger long-term financial plan. It’s up to employers – and their HR executives, in particular – to make sure their employees know how to use their retirement benefits and help them build a plan that will reduce financial stress, weather market fluctuations and ensure a comfortable retirement.