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Home / Business / "This doesn't look like the best economy ever": 40% of Americans say they are still struggling to pay bills

"This doesn't look like the best economy ever": 40% of Americans say they are still struggling to pay bills




Carl Dunlap and Summer Johnson in May at the home they rent in Douglasville, Ga. (Elijah Nouvelage for the Washington Post)

Summer Johnson thought everything finally came together for her last year. She was engaged, working full-time and doing well in online college classes when her fiancée's mother died a week before the wedding day – triggered a series of large and unexpected expenses that made her struggle to pay her bills and put her at risk of bankruptcy [19659003] "I continue to hear that this is one of the best economies we have ever had, and unemployment is down, especially among African Americans, as I am," said Johnson, 39, who lives in Douglasville, Ga., An Atlanta suburb . "I'm looking at going," Where's this boom? "From where I sit, this doesn't look like the best economy ever."

The economic expansion this week became the longest in US history, which surpassed the 1990s boom, which lasted exactly a decade.

The stock market is at record high, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing a new high Wednesday before July 4, and President Trump has made the economy's strong performance a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.

But this expansion has been weaker and the benefits spread far more unevenly than in previous growth cycles, leaving many Americans exposed.

This is a "two-part recovery", says Matthew Mish, head of credit strategy at the investment bank UBS. About 60 percent of Americans have gone financially, he says, while 40 percent do not.

The 40 percent – which Mish calls "lower level" – has seen poor or volatile wage growth, rising housing costs, healthcare and education, and increased levels of personal debt. They tend not to own homes or many stocks.

In discussions with 30 Americans who fail to pay all their bills, a clear pattern arose: Most were able to obey until they faced an unexpected crisis such as a job loss, cancer, car problems or storm damage.

The extra costs made them recover on their bills, and they were never completely rebuilt.

Economists fear such uncertain economic situations that put many Americans at risk if there is yet another mild downturn in the economy, potentially setting up the next recession to be worse than anything in recent history, except for the big recession.

"So many Americans live paycheck to paycheck," said Signe-Mary McKernan, Vice President of the Labor Center, Human Services and Population at the City Institute. "We're heading for a political crisis, if not an economic one."

Their vulnerability is due to the mixing of factors. First, the average American family has not yet fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, found by the Federal Reserve, leaving half of the nation with a reduced cushion to deal with surprise spending – or the next downturn.

The bottom half has less fortune today, after adjusting for inflation, than in 1989, according to Fed data through March this year.

While wage growth has accelerated in recent months, especially for the lowest-paid workers, families that have been struggling for years have had ways to go back to solid footing.


Summer Johnson works full-time, takes online classes towards a degree in business administration and is a mother of two teenagers and an infant. (Elijah Nouvelage for the Washington Post)

Half of US jobs pay less than $ 18.58 an hour and more than a third pay less than $ 15, making it difficult to save or invest for a better future.

Trump and his team argue that a strong economy is raising more and more Americans financially, including workers, former prisoners and minorities. In contrast, the Democrats claim that major expansions of government programs should deal with inequality. How to help the economically vulnerable will probably be an important debate in the 2020 race.

"Just because people on Wall Street think it's good doesn't mean most Americans feel that it's good," said Ray Boshara, director of the household financial stability center at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. When every day is a rainy day for millions of families, it is not good. "

To get past, Americans have borrowed heavily in recent years, with total US household debt now reaching $ 13.7 billion and exceeding 2008 The peak in dollars, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The increase in debt this time is for cars and college, not mortgages.

Johnson knows these issues too well. Her family of five – including two teenagers and an infant daughter – did it on her $ 31,000 salary as an insurance guarantee assistant and her husband's part-time as a clerk, but it took longer to sell the mother-in-law's house than the couple expected.

The modest life insurance couple gathered at her s death, soon ran, but the bills – for the funeral, which carries the extra house, rents, health insurance and the new baby – continued to come. Johnson's husband, Carl Dunlap, has been using full-time jobs repeatedly, but has not been able to get one. He picked up as many extra hours as he could at work, but that wasn't enough.

Already in college debt and a used Volkswagen Passat she bought in 2017, Johnson turned to friends and family for help. But she eventually had to choose between paying for kindergarten and 350-month car loans. She picked day care, and her family lost a vehicle.

She remembers the exact moment that happened: 10am on a Thursday night in early March. She saw the repo man's red flashing light through her living room window and ran outside barefoot.

"I just stood there and watched it, it was tough," Johnson said. "It was the first car I ever bought for myself and we needed it."


Johnson shops with daughter Harmonii in Douglasville. (Elijah Nouvelage for the Washington Post)

Couple carpool to work now, trying to save money to pay thousands of dollars they still owe on VW who is no longer in their possession.

Older and Richer – and Usually White – Americans usually take debts to buy homes or make investments that are likely to make them richer in the years to come. Most people in this category have regained the wealth they lost in the big recession, as house prices and stocks have increased.

In contrast, data from the Fed and the credit rating company Equifax show that colors, Americans born after 1970, and households earning less than $ 60,000 are least likely to have recovered the wealth they lost in the crisis. And they tend to carry heavy debt burden, often taking out loans to college, which they can't get rid of in bankruptcy, or loans to pay bills, which can put them further behind.

The prevailing belief among investors in Wall Street and Washington politicians is that there is little to worry about because student loans Supported by the government and default rates for other types of debt are quite low, which means most can make their monthly payments.

Credit quality is about as good as I have ever seen it, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "There is nothing to suggest unusual stress on low-income households … probably nothing compared to earlier times."

But Boshara, from the St. Louis Fed, pointed out that credit cards and auto loan delinquencies have risen this year, contrary to what Wall Street expected in good economic times.

Four out of 10 Americans say they are still struggling to pay their bills, despite the strong economy, according to a quarterly survey by UBS that has not shown any improvement since 2014. And when looking at how households do in classes, race or age, it reveals a current picture

For Maddy Dannemiller, who lives outside Columbus, Ohio, tipping point came when her boyfriend hit a deer while driving the car.

The vehicle was damaged and the couple decided that it was not safe enough for their children and asked her to buy another.

Her monthly payment jumped to over $ 450 a month because she didn't have a credit history. (Dannemill's late mother had co-signed the loan on his first car.)

Then the couple broke up, and Dannemiller says she supports three children alone.

As a nurse's aid, she makes over $ 8.55 one-hour minimum wage, but not much over $ 10. Her landlord is a relative who sometimes gives her a break on rent, but she is routinely late in the car and credit card payments.

"I'm 25, but I feel like I'm in the late 30s," Dannemiller said, shortly before going to work. "Now I'm two months behind my car payment."


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