A nation of “haves” vs. “have-nots”? Gallup tests the perceptions.

pictureIn any presidential political season, there’s always plenty of rhetoric about the American economy, how well it’s performing for the average voter, and people’s perceptions of how they’re doing socioeconomically.

As it turns out, the Gallup Survey has been testing this issue annually for years now — going all the way back to 1988.

The question posed to Americans in Gallup’s surveys is a simple one: Do you consider yourself personally to be part of the “haves” or “have-nots” in America?

Gallup’s latest survey was fielded in July 2015.  Nearly 2,300 U.S. adults aged 18 and older were part of the research.

In response to the “haves vs. have-nots” question, ~58% of respondents considered themselves to be “haves” in U.S. society, while ~38% placed themselves in the “have-nots” segment. (The remaining ~14% see themselves borderline between the two, or they don’t have an opinion.)

Over time, Gallup has found that the percentage of Americans who perceive themselves to be part of the “have-nots” in society rose pretty steadily from 1988 to 1998, but since that time the percentages have leveled off — even during the worst years of the Great Recession from 2009-2011.

And so, the “haves” percentage has fluctuated in a tight band between 57% and 60% in each year since the late 1990s.

It seems that heightened discussions about social inequality in America haven’t resulted in a higher percentage of people thinking that they are on the less fortunate side of the country’s socioeconomic divide.

However, considering that the latest Gallup survey was conducted in July 2015 — and that since that time there have been more news events drawing attention to the issues of social justice — one wonders if we may be on the cusp of some changing thinking on the subject.

Another persistent finding in Gallup’s surveys is this:  Even among families of quite modest means (annual household incomes of $35,000 or lower), only a little more than half in that segment consider themselves to be part of the “have-nots” group.

Education-wise, the survey findings are similar, with fewer than half of the respondents who don’t possess college degrees considering themselves part of the “have-nots” segment.

In reporting on the Gallup survey results, an article published in the November 2015 issue of Quirk’s Marketing Research Review magazine stated:

“The stratification of U.S. society into unequal socioeconomic groups has long been a fixture of philosophic, political and cultural debate. It appears to have remained or even expanded as a fairly dominant leitmotif in the ongoing 2016 election, particularly among the Democratic presidential candidates. 

[Nevertheless,] the results … in this analysis show that a majority of U.S. adults do not think of American society as being divided along economic lines, and a slightly higher percentage say that if society is divided, they personally are on the ‘haves’ side of the equation rather than the ‘have-nots.'”

More information about the Gallup survey results can be viewed here.

What are your thoughts? Do the perceptions Americans have of socioeconomic inequality — or the lack of it — match the reality?  Or are we poised to see some new significant shifts in the way Americans view socioeconomic divisions in this country?

Your declining retirement savings: It’s all relative.

EBRI's Annual Retirement Confidence Survey
The EBRI's 2010 Retirement Confidence Survey reveals severe challenges faced by many American workers.
As difficult as the last two years have been on your finances, you’ve probably saved a lot more for retirement than your fellow workers.

How is that possible? Because it’s all relative. The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s most recent annual survey of U.S. workers and their retirement savings reveals that the percentage of workers having fewer than $10,000 in savings stands at 43%. That’s up from 39% in 2009.

Even more ominous, the percentage of workers who reported they have less than $1,000 in savings is 27% — significantly more than the 20% reported in 2009.

The EBRI’s definition of retirement savings excludes the value of primary homes and defined-benefit pension plans. Still, these are startling figures, showing that large numbers of Americans have little if anything in the way of a savings safety net.

It’s true that some people have plowed their savings into the purchase of a home. But these “house poor” individuals are often among the first who face mortgage foreclosures upon the loss of a job, because they have so few cash resources upon which to fall back.

If there is a glimmer of good news in these dreary statistics, it’s that more people are awakening to the reality of their finances. Gone is the notion that Social Security will pay enough for a decent retirement lifestyle. Indeed, less than 20% of respondents expressed confidence in their ability to save enough for a comfortable retirement. That’s the second lowest reading ever recorded in the 20-year history of the EBRI’s annual survey.

Only ~45% of workers with some form of savings have more than $25,000 stashed away … and people know that $25,000 is not nearly enough for retirement, Social Security payments being what they are. Consequently, in the 2010 EBRI survey, one in four workers report that they’ve decided to postpone their retirements (that’s up from ~15% saying so in the 2009 EBRI research).

For its survey, the Employee Benefit Research Institute queried ~1,150 U.S. workers (age 25 and older) plus retirees, making it one of the most comprehensive field studies on the topic of U.S. retirement savings. There’s a wealth of additional statistics and insights available here.