While institutional investors and money managers have a very specific list of worries when it comes to their "financial concerns" such as Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), monthly/quarterly performance and redemption requests, losing top traders, what the year end bonus will be, order fill slippage, being frontrun by HFT algos, what the Fed chairwoman may say any given day, whether it is 3:30pm or if it is a Tuesday, ordinary Americans have a far simpler list of concerns. According to a recent Gallup poll, the one thing that has most Americans very/moderately worried is "whether or not they have enough money for retirement."
The list of the top concerns is presented below:
In a country in which the economy is barely sputtering, and where all the benefits from 5+ years of QE have accrued exclusively to the top 1% of wealthy, that nearly two-thirds of society is concerned about its retirement prospects will hardly come as a surprise.
Going down the list, the next highest concern, not being able to pay medical costs in the event of a serious illness or accident, worries 53% of Americans. This is down from a record high of 62% in 2012.
Third on the list of Americans' top financial worries is not being able to maintain the standard of living they enjoy, with nearly half of the country's adults citing this concern. Together, retirement savings, unexpected medical costs, and maintaining one's standard of living typically top the list of the eight financial items that Gallup has tracked annually since 2001. Concerns about all three are down modestly from two years ago, but are still higher than they were before the Great Recession.
The good news is that according to the latest poll, all of the top three concerns are well below expressed levels at any time since the collapse of Lehman. Still, with the stock market at all time highs, one would expect that people who are "very" concerned about any of these three prospects would be at a record low. Alas, it is nowhere near such levels.
Going down the list, from Gallup:
Notably, four in 10 American adults say they are very or moderately worried about not having enough money to pay off their debt. This is the first time Gallup has included this financial issue. With as much as $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt circulating in the U.S. today -- not to mention other prevalent types of debt such as credit cards -- debt concerns are clearly weighing on a significant proportion of the country.
Of the nine concerns tested, the bottom two concerns -- not being able to pay one's rent or mortgage, and not being able to make minimum payments on credit card bills -- are those most likely to indicate immediate insolvency. This finding suggests that most common financial problems are related more to savings and future expenditures than day-to-day living.
As also would be expected, different age groups have different concerns. The top problem for the broadly defined group of middle-aged Americans -- those aged 30 to 64 -- is not having enough money for retirement, in line with previous findings. For this group, about seven in 10 worry about not having enough money for retirement.
Young Americans aged 18 to 29 worry most about paying medical costs in the event of a serious illness or accident (52%), perhaps a result of the comparatively high uninsured rate for younger Americans or the lack of savings typically characterizing that age group. An equal share of 18- to 29-year-olds (52%) say they are worried about being able to maintain their standard of living. And nearly half of 18- to 29-year-olds worry about being able to pay off debt, perhaps a consequence of the massive amount of student loan debt that many young adults carry. Possibly befitting their youth and their longer distance in years from retirement, this group is least concerned about having enough money when they retire compared with other age groups -- despite dire predictions about the future of Medicare and Social Security.
Older Americans, those aged 65 or older, also worry most about being able to pay medical costs in the event of a serious illness or accident, though few in this age group lack health insurance. However, given the formidable cost of protracted, continual medical care that often characterizes older Americans' later years, many senior citizens may feel their health insurance alone cannot handle such a financial burden. Generally speaking, though, senior citizens are much less concerned about most of these financial problems than are their younger counterparts. The majority of older Americans appear to have retirement financing under control; 37% worry about having enough money in their retirement, by far the lowest percentage of any age group. Senior citizens are least concerned about not having enough money to pay for their children's college education (8%) -- presumably because older Americans already faced that challenge.
Curiously, for Americans across all age groups, the ability to make minimum payments on credit card bills does not generate much concern. Perhaps because as they have seen their host nation do time and again, when one gets that third overdue bill, one can simply roll over the amount due to a different credit card company, or simpler yet, default. After all it is only a matter of time before such activity is fully endorsed by Obama's "fairness doctrine."
Retirement may be a time that many working adults look forward to, but it is paradoxically a source of stress in the here and now. A strong majority of Americans, particularly those aged 30 to 64, worry about having enough money for retirement, and this concern has regularly topped the list of Americans' top financial problems. The only other personal financial concern that a majority of Americans are very or moderately worried about is the ability to pay medical costs in the event of a serious accident or illness.
For a country that now has a life expectancy at birth of 78.7 years, retirement savings for post-work years is considered a matter of national importance. These concerns led President Barack Obama to propose a retirement savings account for working adults -- MyRA -- during this year's State of the Union address. It remains to be seen whether this new type of savings plan, which will be available in late 2014, will ultimately alleviate some Americans' concerns about retirement.
The answer, of course, is no and as with any other such "no risk, guaranteed return" instrument the outcome will be a disaster of epic proportions. But we'll cross that bridge when central-planning takes us to it. In the meantime, just BTFD, or alternatively, BTFATH, and hope for the best. After all, in a market as rigged and manipulated as this one, hope (and prayer) is without doubt the best, and probably only, strategy.