Even though the economy is doing relatively well this year, that doesn't mean the average person isn't still worried about their own financial outlook.
PricewaterhouseCoopers released the findings of PwC’s Employee Financial Wellness Survey last week, indicating persistent concerns about financial well-being.
Many survey respondents cited the lack of financial education and support from their employers as key contributors to their financial anxieties.
While confidence about retirement has improved somewhat since 2012, approximately one out of five employees (21 percent) said they aren’t saving for retirement at all. In addition, 63 percent of the employees polled indicated they felt they have inadequate knowledge of how the Affordable Care Act affects their financial health.
Nearly 80 percent of Millennial employees think Social Security benefits either won’t be available or will be reduced when they retire. And nearly half of full-time employees report stress over their personal finances.
Kent Allison, leader of PwC’s Employee Financial Education and Wellness practice, has noticed a positive trend over the past five years that PwC has been conducting the survey, but believes that many people are still rightly worried about their finances.
“There is recognition that improvement is going on, but then if I look at the survey in isolation without that perspective, it still shows that there are significant issues going on and people are still struggling,” he said in an interview last week. “It's just that they're not struggling as much as they were five years ago.
While retirement confidence has increased over the past few years (up 16 percentage points to 43 percent since 2012) the majority of employees still are not confident in their ability to retire when they want.
Although employees have good intentions about retirement planning (only 21 percent said they would contribute less to their retirement plan if they could only access the money at retirement), the survey found that more than one-third (35 percent) of working adults are likely to withdraw money from their retirement funds to pay for non-retirement expenses.
Employees have largely accepted that responsibility for funding retirement is up to them and 70 percent said they should be primarily responsible as opposed to their employer or the government. Yet they continue to struggle with balancing their competing financial priorities.
“The positive is that things are improving,” said Allison. “The negative is that in isolation there are still some pretty significant issues that are of concern, and we can break it down by generation. Each generation has its unique issues. When we did the survey last year, Gen Y was trailing Gen X and Baby Boomers in terms of feeling the relief from the uptick in the market and the turnaround, even though slower, in the housing market. We recognized that it likely was because, when you look at the buildup of assets over years, the Baby Boomers likely had more assets built up where they would feel the benefits of the stock market increase and they probably also had more equity in their homes to essentially withstand the housing downturn and then start rebuilding equity. Gen X was a shade below that, but still had assets and equity. With Gen Y, they are pretty much reliant on their current income, and with wages being stagnant, they didn’t feel the relief on that end. Then with regard to where they were with the housing and stock market, they certainly didn't feel as much relief on those ends.”
The survey found improvements across all generational demographics. The proportion of Millennials reporting financial stress, while still significant, fell to 52 percent from 60 percent in 2014. Despite this progress, Millennials continue to be more at risk than their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts because they have saved less and have smaller equity in their homes. This means Millennials must rely more on stagnant wages.
Future planning also proves to be more difficult for many Millennials. One reason is that nearly 80 percent believe Social Security benefits either won’t be available or they will be reduced when they retire. This generation appears to be most in need of retirement planning assistance. Although employees have largely accepted that retirement is in their own hands, many don’t possess the knowledge or confidence to grasp control of their retirement and future finances.
For instance, among the 53 percent of Baby Boomers planning to retire within the next five years, just half of them know how much income they will need in retirement.
Gen Y could be feeling better due to the turnaround in the housing market, but that doesn't mean they're financially secure.
“One of the things we note is that some of them may be feeling better, but there are still a whole lot who are living paycheck to paycheck, and there is certainly a high percentage of them feeling the stress,” said Allison. “One of the issues is that they also don't have a heck of a lot in terms of an emergency fund. The concern there is that if things were to turn south again, they would probably be the first ones impacted because they don’t really have anything set aside to take the blow.”