Hitting the "Pause Button" on the American Dream

Americans are pushing off big financial and lifestyle milestones during COVID-19
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Main Street Americans have apparently decided to sit tight on big household expenditures – and on any big lifestyle changes - during the pandemic.

Those are the big takeaways from a wide-ranging study by Bankrate.com of consumer finance and lifestyle habits during one of the greatest health crises’ in the past century.

The study of 2,541 U.S. adults tracked their financial and lifestyle decisions - or “milestones” as the report declares – with surprising results.

Case in point. More than one in three (36%) U.S. adults say they’ve delayed at least one major financial milestone as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, Bankrate reports. Of those survey participants who delayed a major milestone, the majority postponed for six months or more.

Additionally, younger generations and those whose financial situations are worse off because of the pandemic were more likely to delay plans.

Here’s more from the study:

--- Delayed financial milestones include finding a new job (12%), buying/leasing a car (11%), buying a home (9%), furthering education (7%), getting married (5%), having children (5%), retiring (5%) or another major financial milestone (5%).

--- Generation Z (ages 18-23) and millennials (ages 24-39) were twice as likely as their elders (ages 40+) to delay a major milestone (52% of those ages 18-39 vs. 26% elders).

--- Twenty-nine percent of U.S. adults say their personal financial situation has gotten worse since the start of coronavirus in early March, while 13% say the situation has gotten better and 52% say it’s stayed the same.

--- Those whose finances are worse now were more than twice as likely to delay a milestone than those whose finances stayed the same (54% vs. 26%).

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It’s Generation Z that draws the most concern during the COVID-19 crisis. They’re much more likely to delay milestones they and the overall U.S. economy needs from its youngest contributors. That includes landmark goals like finding a new job and buying a home.

“Among those often adversely affected by the economic downturn are younger Americans, many of whom are just starting out in their careers,” said Bankrate’s senior economic analyst, Mark Hamrick. “As a result of these setbacks, they’ll spend years trying to make up lost income and career opportunity.”

Furthermore, Americans aren’t setting a time clock on any future milestone initiatives.

“Of those putting off retirement in the wake of the pandemic, nearly two in five Americans say the delay is indefinite,” Hamrick states. “This adds further insult to financial injury for those struggling to meet their retirement savings goals, opting to remain employed longer than hoped.”

Is the pandemic fueling a pause in the pursuit of the American dream? You bet, Hamrick says.

“A kind of unseen toll of the downturn is the paused pursuit of dreams including retirement, marriage and major purchases such as homes and vehicles,” explains Hamrick. “Beyond the personal toll on individuals, these delays serve to further restrain employment and the broader economy.”