Most Americans Don’t Think Their Finances Will Improve in 2019

(Bloomberg) -- With Washington mired in gridlock and markets flashing all sorts of warning signs, the majority of Americans expects 2019 to be a grim one for their finances, according to a new study.

Just over 55 percent of people in the United States don’t see their economic situation improving this year, a new Bankrate.com report found. That slice includes 11.7 percent who believe their prospects will worsen and 43.7 percent who believe it will stay about the same.

The survey was conducted from Dec. 14-16 of last year, when U.S. consumer confidence had slumped to a five-month low amid stock market volatility and fears that global economic growth would moderate in 2019. A partial government shutdown—now the longest in U.S. history—was looming, and trade talks with China had reached a wary but unresolved truce. The data are from a sample of 1,000 nationally representative interviews of American adults 18 or older, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

While Americans may not be overly optimistic about their financial future, the data show wages on the uptick. Workers saw an average hourly wage gain of 3.2 percent over the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ December report. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, is also on the rise.

“There can be a disconnect with what we might see as respectable economic data and how it does or doesn’t help average Americans,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “We continue to see some economic stress throughout a sizable cross section of society.”

Most Americans Don’t Think Their Finances Will Improve in 2019

Nearly half (49 percent) of those surveyed blamed political leadership in Washington for the anticipated decline in their financial fortunes, over more concrete concerns such as heightened cost of living (38 percent) and increased debt (37 percent).

Americans lack confidence in their government, among other institutions, Hamrick said, which can influence how people perceive their personal economic prospects. The public may “disagree on policy issues between the warring tribes, but what they can agree on is, ‘We sent them up there because there was a job to do,’ and there’s a sense that job isn’t being tended to,” he said.

The report’s outlook wasn’t all bleak. Despite the student loan debt crisis and data that show young people have a lower net worth than prior generations did at the same point in their lives, millennials were decidedly more optimistic about 2019 than were older Americans.

Nearly 60 percent of 18- to 37-year-olds surveyed expect their finances to improve this year, compared to just 35 percent of their elders. “They represent the most upwardly mobile aspect of society and the workforce,” Hamrick said. “Millennials are more focused on their careers, in part because some of them were deeply sensitized to economic distress, having come of age in the financial crisis.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.