Americans are savings less these days. Here’s why and what that means | CNN Business


Americans haven’t been stashing money into their savings accounts like they used to, according to government statistics. That’s part of the reason why consumer spending has been so robust since the economy ascended from pandemic depths, despite high inflation and elevated interest rates. But when saving slows (or stops), it puts households in a vulnerable position, especially those with low incomes, economists say.

The personal saving rate fell to 3.6% in February, the lowest level in more than a year, and in recent years it has hovered below levels seen in the decade before 2022.

That may just be a continuation of a long-term trend: Americans “have consistently saved less in the aftermath of each recession than they did in the prior cycle,” according to an analysis from Wells Fargo economists released Thursday.

The only exception over the past 50 years in which people actually saved more than they did in the prior cycle was during the economic expansion after the Great Recession, which stretched from 2009 to 2020, the analysis said. That reflected the sheer economic pain Americans felt during the 2008 downturn.

The dynamics at play now are vastly different. Americans saw their coffers swell thanks to pandemic-related stimulus and not spending during shutdowns. The robust job market of recent years has also supported household finances. Put together, this may have resulted in “a structurally lower saving rate,” according to the report.

Before the Bell spoke with Shannon Seery Grein, an economist at Wells Fargo and one of the authors of the report, on what recent savings behavior means for the US economy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does the lower saving rate of nowadays say about the US consumer?

Shannon Seery Grein: The saving rate itself is capturing this change in behavior that is here to stay until there’s some sort of event or shock that causes consumers to change their behavior. Households are continuing to spend at these elevated rates and one reason is because of the lower saving rate. You’re just not seeing a reversal back to pre-Covid levels, which isn’t shocking when you look back historically to what has happened to the saving rate. There’s been both a structural change that has been happening for a long time as well as a cyclical behavioral shift that happened in the midst of the pandemic. That is going to help support spending this year.

Why could this development potentially be a bad thing?

It is somewhat worrisome that households are not saving at the same rate they have historically because they technically won’t have as much at their fingertips come a downturn or a shock that hits the household sector, so I think it leaves them more financially vulnerable, though it does present some near-term strength for the economy. According to Moody’s Analytics data, your lower income consumers have negative savings, so they’re spending more on a monthly basis than they’re bringing in. That could be due to the use of credit or just not purchasing assets. That is very unique to this cycle and it just leaves this group more vulnerable to a downturn because it means they are much more dependent on their income.

What does this all say about the consumer psyche?

Households are just not changing their spending patterns, but they’ve been changing everything else. During the pandemic, we were all locked in our homes and there wasn’t much spending on services, so there was this forced saving happening. Coming out of the pandemic, households had a lot of this liquidity to spend, particularly on services, so they’ve spent at these elevated rates and that has continued. Even as households become more dependent on their income, there has been this change in psyche in which they change everything to fit their spending patterns. They’re saving less on a monthly basis, they’re pulling out money from other assets such as retirement accounts, we’ve seen a pickup in Buy Now Pay Later, we’ve continued to see a pickup in credit card usage and so on. I think you’re going to keep seeing households spend at the rates that they have.

Burnout is such a problem for workers that some bosses are considering shrinking the length of the workweek, reports my colleague Matt Egan.

Nearly one-third (30%) of large US companies are exploring new work schedule shifts such as four-day or four-and-a-half-day workweeks, according to a KPMG survey of CEOs released this week.

The findings show how some executives are searching for ways to attract and retain talent in a red-hot job market where many employees feel over-worked and underpaid.

“We are all working to figure out what is optimal, and we will continue to experiment and pivot,” Paul Knopp, chair and CEO of KPMG US, told CNN in an interview. Many workers say they would love a shorter work week.

full 77% of US workers said a four-day, 40-hour workweek would have a positive impact on their wellbeing, according to a Gallup poll released in November. That includes 46% who said it would have an “extremely positive” effect.

The good news for workers is that some studies of four-day workweeks in the United States and Europe have found positive results for well-being and productivity among workers.

Read more here.

Monday: Earnings from Goldman Sachs, Charles Schwab and M&T Bank. The US Commerce Department releases March figures on retail sales and reports business inventories in February. Fed officials Lorie Logan and Mary Daly deliver remarks. The National Association of Home Builders releases its NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index for April. China’s National Bureau of Statistics releases March figures on industrial production, retail sales, fixed-asset investment, unemployment and first-quarter gross domestic product.

Tuesday: Earnings from UnitedHealth, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, PNC, The Bank of New York Mellon, Northern Trust and United Airlines. The US Commerce Department releases March data on housing starts and building permits. The Federal Reserve releases March figures on industrial production. Canada’s statistics agency releases March inflation data. Fed Chair Jerome Powell participates in a discussion.

Wednesday: Earnings from Abbott Laboratories, Discover, Equifax, and Citizens. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester delivers remarks.

Thursday: Earnings from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Netflix, Blackstone and Alaska Air. The National Association of Realtors reports existing home sales in March. Fed officials John Williams and Raphael Bostic deliver remarks. The US Labor Department reports the number of initial jobless claims in the week ended April 13.

Friday: Earnings from Procter & Gamble and American Express. Chicago Fed President Austan Goolsbee delivers remarks.

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