CUNA Mutual Group survey reveals disconnect between middle class aspirations and resources

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The middle class believes its ability to achieve the American Dream remains alive, but they may be far too optimistic about their own financial security, according to a new survey from CUNA Mutual Group.

The survey found that middle class Americans tend to feel positive about their prospects for upward mobility. When respondents were asked to grade the ability of the middle class to achieve the American Dream, the average response was B-.

The survey also found that 62 percent of middle class Americans say they feel somewhat or very confident about their personal financial situation, and nearly half at 46 percent believe it is highly unlikely that they will miss a loan payment over the next one to two years.

That cautious optimism, however, contradicts a more troubling financial picture, according to the CUNA Mutual Group survey, which found more than half of respondents are ill-equipped for an emergency, with 23 percent saying they have no emergency savings and 30 percent only having one to three months’ worth.

“The middle class continues to experience stress from the long-term impacts of the 2008 recession,” said Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group. “Markets may be rebounding and unemployment at historic lows, but we’re still seeing middle class families struggle with sticky wages, inadequate liquidity, high debt, insufficient savings and difficulty building wealth. This population is among the most exposed to an eventual downturn.”

Additional findings from the survey found that retirement remains a vulnerable spot, with only 28 percent of respondents saying they will be able to retire with financial confidence in their lifetime. In fact, many seem to be more focused on short-term goals considered hallmarks of the American Dream. According to the survey, 38 percent say they feel that they will be able to buy a new car in their lifetime, and just 37 percent say they will be able to travel internationally.

The 2018 CUNA Mutual Group survey polled 1,258 U.S. adults ages 18 or older and making an annual income of $35,000 to less than $100,000. The survey was conducted in August 2018.

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