Financial health of many solid despite fall

Visitors to Times Square walk past the ABC news ticker announcing a stock rebound, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, in New York. Hiring and home values are up. Gas prices and mortgage rates are down. Inflation is low. The pace of layoffs has dwindled to a trickle. Add it up, and the evidence suggests that many Americans, though certainly not all, are faring comparatively well. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)


By Josh Boak ,AP

WASHINGTON — Many Americans have just absorbed a financial beating — at least as measured by their stock holdings. It’s the kind of blow that can feed a sense of helplessness about retirement, college savings and higher-than-expected bills.

But take a look at other gauges of Americans’ financial health, and a more nuanced picture emerges:

Hiring and home values are up. Gas prices and mortgage rates are down. Inflation is low. The pace of layoffs has dwindled.

Add it up, and the evidence suggests that many Americans — though certainly not all — are doing comparatively well.

Even the stock-market swoon can be put in perspective: Yes, the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has tumbled 7 percent over the past week. Since the end of 2008, though, the S&P index has jumped nearly 123 percent.

For some, the stock sell-off has been an occasion to take a breath, recall previous down markets that eventually recovered and summon the patience to wait for their investments to rebound.

“Hell, yes, I am worried,” said Shannon Miller, a 27-year-old digital content manager in St. Louis, Missouri. “But what goes down … will probably go back up.”

Here’s a look at key measures of Americans’ financial well-being:

Jobs This is a clear bright spot. Employers have added a total of 11.5 million jobs over the past 58 months. All that hiring has helped cut the unemployment rate to 5.3 percent from a peak of 10 percent in 2009. And just about everyone who has a job is getting to keep it: Applications for unemployment aid, which reflect the pace of layoffs, has hit a 15-year low.

It’s true that the solid hiring has yet to provide meaningful pay raises for most people. Average hourly earnings are up a subpar 2.1 percent over the past 12 months.

But there’s evidence that the job market is being retooled for occupations and college graduates who command higher pay. Nearly 44 percent of the jobs added during the recovery paid a median income of more than US$53,000, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The economy includes a greater proportion of these jobs now than in 2008, after having shed “middle-wage jobs” — those that paid US$32,000 to US$53,000.

“The surge in hiring is not concentrated in dead-end McJobs,” the report concluded.