An Analysis Of U.S. Financial Well-Being Shows There’s Little Well-Being To Go Around

The so-called economic recovery is out of reach for most of the country.

The reality of the so-called economic recovery is that some people are recovering and some people are much the same as they were before the recession. Millions of Americans are weighed down by high housing and medical costs, and they don’t earn enough to save or build assets so they can live a different kind of life.


That’s according to this year’s “Assets & Opportunity Scorecard,” a comprehensive analysis of financial well-being. It comes from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a Washington, D.C. non-profit. It should be eye-opening to people who think the U.S. has been through a storm and come out singing.

Because of a lack of affordable real estate, 51% of renters spend at least one third of their income on housing. Almost 15% of Americans say they didn’t visit a doctor last year for cost reasons. More than half of credit users have sub-prime scores, while 26 million adults are “credit invisible” (they have no file) and 19 million are “un-scorable” (they lack sufficient credit history). One-in-four jobs are low-wage, and most of them are done by African Americans or Hispanics. Households of color are 2.1 times more likely than the rest of the population to live below the poverty line.

For a country that prides itself on spreading opportunity, the United States doesn’t spread it very far. Take the imbalance of the tax code. The federal government spends about nine times as much on tax programs to encourage upper-income households to save and build wealth compared to what it spends on Earned Income Tax Credits, the most important tax assistance program for lower-income Americans. “The top 0.1% gets more from these ‘upside-down’ tax programs than the entire bottom 80% combined,” CFED points out, and that’s before you consider how adept the rich are at hiding their money from the IRS.

The Scorecard gives a rundown of each state’s situation, ranking each by outcomes (for example, how many own their own businesses or have health coverage) and by policy (how much help does the state offer people to build assets and cover their ongoing costs). New York for example ranks 4th for policies but 32nd for outcomes (it has a poverty of 15% and high inequality).

“There certainly are many positive signs that our economy is improving,” says Andrea Levere, president of CFED. “But there also is very compelling evidence that many households continue to struggle and can’t find a way up. We can and should take steps to help them.”

See more of the results here.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.