November 11, 1999

Retro-Politics

Section 7: The Economy

Reflecting the strong economy of the late 1990s, personal financial attitudes have improved since 1994. On average, Americans report more satisfaction with their financial situation and less financial pressure than five years ago. But averages disguise a more complex picture. The current survey finds that it is mostly upper-income Americans and college graduates who express more financial satisfaction, while less affluent and not as well-educated people report less of a financial crunch than in 1994. Despite both these trends, satisfaction with wage earnings has remained virtually the same except among middle-income people — their wage satisfaction has dropped.

More Satisfaction, Less Pressure

Overall, almost two-thirds of Americans (64%) say they are satisfied with the way things are going for them financially, an eight percentage point gain since 1994. Similarly, nearly seven-in-ten (68%) Americans now say paying bills is generally not a problem for them, up from 63% five years ago. Conversely, about 29% think they often don’t have enough money to make ends meet, down seven percentage points from 1994.

Lower-income Americans have experienced little or no increase in overall financial satisfaction in the last five years. Among those making less than $20,000, only four-in-ten express financial contentment, with a steady 79% rating their personal financial situation as only fair or poor. There has been, however, a drop from 60% to 54% in the last five years among those in this income bracket who say they often don’t have enough money to make ends meet. This reduction in financial pressure is also seen among women, Hispanics and young people.

The more affluent are almost the opposite of lower-income Americans. While those making more than $50,000 are more fiscally satisfied overall than they were in 1994, they have experienced almost no decrease in financial pressure. For example, among the more wealthy, general financial satisfaction is up 10 percentage points from 1994. Yet despite this boost, there has been relatively little increase in those who say they have no problem paying their bills.

Just Not Enough

Dissatisfaction with wage earnings registers across most income and education levels, with only 39% of Americans saying they earn enough money to lead the kind of life they want. Among the more affluent (a household income of at least $50,000 per year) there has been no significant change in satisfaction with salary since 1994, and among middle-income ($30,000 – $49,999) Americans there has been a significant drop of 8 percentage points, from 44% to 36%. Even four-in-ten (38%) of those making $75,000 or more think they do not earn enough money to lead the kind of life they want.

Among those with less than a college education, wage satisfaction has changed little over the last five years. Today only 33% in this group say they earn enough to live the kind of life they want. This is down marginally from 35% in 1994.

This group does express slightly more satisfaction with personal finances overall. But only 42% of them rate their current financial situation as excellent or good, reflecting little change from 1994. Indeed, this is well below the 71% of college graduates who rate their financial situation as excellent or good.

Hispanics, Blacks, Women More Satisfied

Hispanics have shown a significant increase in fiscal satisfaction since 1994. Fully 60% say they are financially satisfied, up 15 percent in the last five years. In addition, the number of Hispanics who say paying bills isn’t a problem for them also increased 13 percentage points from 1994 to 1999. However, like other segments of the population, fully two-thirds (66%) of Hispanics still think they do not earn enough money to lead the kind of life they want.

African-Americans are also somewhat happier with their finances than in 1994: 43% now say they often don’t have enough money to make ends meet, down from 55% in 1994. However, only one-fifth of blacks now feel they earn enough money to lead the kind of life they want, compared to 42% of whites. This has changed relatively little since 1994, when 22% of African-Americans felt this way. Overall, 70% of blacks rate their personal financial situation as either fair or poor, compared to 47% of whites, and 51% of Hispanics who do so.

Two-thirds (66%) of men and 61% of women now say they are generally satisfied with the way things are going for them financially — a seven percentage point increase from 1994 for each group. There has also been a substantial increase since 1994 in the number of women saying they have no problem paying their bills, 57% to 65%, respectively. Interestingly, younger women are slightly more content with the amount of money they earn than younger men. The reverse is true with older men and women.

Cite this publication: “Retro-Politics.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (November 11, 1999) http://www.people-press.org/1999/11/11/retro-politics/, accessed on July 22, 2014.