Money Culture

Americans Cope with Income Swings

A full-time job that delivers a steady paycheck, week in and week out, is a luxury for many working people.

Low- and middle-income adults are instead often whipsawed by wild swings in their incomes, finds a U.S. Financial Diaries project, based on detailed biweekly or monthly financial interviews with 235 urban and rural U.S. households nationwide. During the course of the year these interviews were conducted, the average household experienced four spikes or dips, defined as a change of at least 25 percent in their incomes.

The Bloomberg video above explains that even when workers’ annual incomes are sufficient to cover annual expenses, these month-to-month fluctuations complicate how – or whether – they can save for their future.

The income swings have many causes primarily stemming from the labor market, including unpredictable work schedules, unsteady part-time or self-employment, and a patchwork of multiple jobs, as well as a reliance on intermittent payments such as tax refunds.  More than half of the adults interviewed – retail and construction workers, waitresses, check cashers, hotel workers, taxi drivers – held down more than two jobs.

The Financial Diaries interviews were equally divided among the poor, people just above the poverty line, and the “middle class,” the researchers said. The Center for Financial Services Innovation prepared the report with Jonathan Morduch at New York University.

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