While Americans are known for their lack of savings and credit card debt, more are feeling secure in their own financial well-being and think they are living the American Dream.
In fact, nearly 63% believe they are living the so-called “Dream,” compared with 59% only five years ago, according to the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll. The number of Americans who believe their personal financial situation is excellent to good reached the highest rate since June 2013 at 45%.
“We’ve got a new normal now,” said Eric Chen, an associate professor of business administration at the University of Saint Joseph in Connecticut. “A generation or two ago, debt was bad, four-letter word. Employment was for life and employer-sponsored pensions, along with Social Security, were supposed to see us through our golden years. “
Chen said in adjusting to the new normal, Americans may be getting used to living by a new set of rules.
“We’ve gotten comfortable with living with the uncertainty of having so many unresolved financial issues on the table,” he said.
While we may be getting use to a new normal, the survey does show some less optimistic numbers. In fact, people are less confident they have enough financial assets to provide a reasonable security cushion in the event they lose their job or face a significant decrease in income than they were during the recession. During that time, almost 60% were confident they had the necessary assets, compared to only half expressing the same confidence in 2016. Also, 54% of people rated their personal financial situation as fair or poor.
Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com, said people likely are fooling themselves if they are starting to feel more financially secure when credit card debt is on the rise and most don’t have any real savings to speak of.
"I have a name for this, ‘debt detachment disease,’” Dvorkin said. “If you live in a nice house and drive a nice car, but you can barely make the payments, that’s a problem that hasn’t altered your lifestyle yet. Sure, you’re paying the minimum on your credit cards and you’re racking up late fees on your car and home loans, but you still got the house and the car.”
Dvorkin said Americans have grown incredibly callous to debt, as credit card balances approach $1 trillion in this country.
“When your friends and family are just as deeply in the red as you are, there’s comfort in the company — and complacency,” he added.
However, Americans may not entirely be fooling themselves when it comes to their financial security and living the American Dream, Chen said.
“There are three current reasons for the optimism: low interest rates, relatively low oil prices and process improvements made by companies facing competitive pressure at the global level,” he said.
Chen said one of the reasons debt is no longer that four-letter word is because interest rates are at near-historic lows.
“Appropriate leverage is considered part of the new normal,” Chen said. “Interest rate lowering has traditionally been used as a means of stimulating the economy, for it makes borrowing cheaper.”
That along with the price at the pump being approximately half of what it was at its peak, and companies faced with increasing global competition having to embark on process improvements are reasons to think positive about one’s financial security, Chen said.
“However, each of these reasons also comes with a downside,” he adds. “Interest rates aren’t going to stay low forever. Oil isn’t in unlimited supply. One of the main complaints of most managers is that they can’t find and retain the right workforce. To enjoy success long-term, we’ve got to navigate through these challenges.”