Personal finance counselors usually advise that it is prudent to have enough money in savings to cover six months of living expenses without income. In this era of job insecurity, that has never been better advice.
But most Americans don't or can't take that advice. A survey by the American Payroll Association finds 68 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
Respondents were asked how difficult it would be to meet their current financial obligations if their paychecks were delayed for a week. More than 28,300 of the 30,611 people responding to the survey -- 68 percent -- said they would find it somewhat or very difficult to meet their financial obligations if their paychecks were delayed.
The results are not that surprising since an entire industry has sprung up in response to that reality. Payday loan stores market to consumers who are stretched thin and have no savings. When they encounter an unexpected expense, they often turn to a payday lender as a last resort.
The fact that consumers' incomes are falling also make it harder to accumulate an emergency savings account. The Pew Research Center has crunched Census Bureau numbers showing that U.S. household income has continued to fall since the Great Recession ended in June 2009.
“The decrease in household income from 2009 to 2011 almost exactly equaled the decrease in income in the two years of the recession,” the Pew report said. “During the Great Recession, the median U.S. household income dropped from $54,489 in 2007 to $52,195 in 2009, a loss of 4.2 percent. By this yardstick, the recovery from the Great Recession is bypassing the nation’s households.”
The Pew report mirrors one issued earlier this month by Sentier Research, a survey and data analysis firm. According to the Sentier report, median annual household income declined during the recession, from $54,916 in December 2007 to $53,508 in June 2009. That's the point at which the economy began to register positive growth.
But the downward trend in household income continued, according to Sentier. During the last three years of economic recovery, real median annual household income has fallen to $50,964 -- a decline of 4.7 percent over the last three years. During the same period, the economy has grown an average 3.9 percent per quarter.
So with less money coming in, it only seems logical that more Americans would be living paycheck-to-paycheck.