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U.S. Workers Living Paycheck to Paycheck at a Recession-Era Low

U.S. workers worried about financesThough if you reach into the typical American person’s pocket, you’re more likely to come up with a handful of chocolate than actual gold (1. I don’t know that that’s actually true, and 2. it’s never a good idea to go reaching into people’s pockets), it turns out fewer American workers are nervously counting down the minutes to their next payday in order to keep the lights on, according to a new CareerBuilder survey among more than 3,800 full-time workers.

How Many Workers are Living Paycheck to Paycheck?

Forty percent of workers report that they always or usually live paycheck to paycheck, a slight decrease from 42 percent who said the same in 2011. This year’s figure marks a recession-era low, continuing what’s been a downward trend since the dawn of the financial crisis in 2008, when 46 percent of Americans said they lived paycheck to paycheck.The survey also found that 53 percent of those currently living paycheck to paycheck weren’t doing so before 2008.

In Addition:

  • 37 percent of workers say they sometimes live paycheck to paycheck
  • 23 percent say they never live paycheck to paycheck.
  • 20 percent of workers were unable to make ends meet at least once in the last year.
  •  12 percent of workers who earn $100,000 or more always or usually live paycheck to paycheck – trending down from 14 percent in 2011 and 17 percent in 2010.


Owning one’s financial future

Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, points out that financial security in spite of a tough economy often comes down to workers’ strategic choices:

“Making ends meet remains a challenge for millions of households, but the situation has improved for workers who’ve grown more confident with their job security or who’ve taken steps to pay down debt and save more. Seventy-two percent of workers report they are more fiscally responsible since the end of the recession, and as the labor market continues to improve, we expect more workers will again be able to spend in ways that will drive the economy forward.”

Never Gonna Give You Up (Internet)
A majority (59 percent) of workers said they cut back on leisure activities since the start of the recession, but for many, Fido and Google are too important to give up, regardless of financial concerns:

• Internet connection – 57 percent
• Driving – 44 percent
• Pet – 39 percent
• Cable TV – 29 percent
• Mobile phone – 24 percent

Workers' Most Valued Expenses

Lonely Piggy Banks?

Twenty-seven percent of workers don’t save a dime from month to month. Thirty percent, however, save more than $250, and 10 percent save more than $1,000.

Long-Term Planning

  • 67 percent of workers contribute to a 401(k), IRA or comparable retirement plan, similar to 2011 (66 percent).
  • 20 percent of workers said they reduced their contribution to these plans in the last year, which is also relatively unchanged from 2011 (21 percent).

Women Versus Men

Consistent with past studies, women (44 percent) are more likely than men (36 percent) to live paycheck to paycheck. The study also found that 25 percent of female workers missed a monthly payment at least once in the past year, compared to 17 percent of men.

With Age Comes… Financial Wisdom?

Compared to other age groups, workers close to retirement (55 and older) are least likely to report living paycheck to paycheck:

• 18-34: 40 percent
• 35-44: 42 percent
• 45-54: 43 percent
• 55 and older: 34 percent

Workers 55 and older are also more likely than those workers age 25-54 to report saving more than $1,000 dollars a month (13 percent), and they’re the most likely age group to participate in a 401(k), IRA or comparable plan (73 percent).

See all the details here with our infographic.

Anything about these results surprise you?

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.


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