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If so many Americans can't raise $2,000 in 30 days, what lies ahead?

Better send some anti-depressants to the folks at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Their recent analyses on the ultra-precarious financial state of too many Americans are starting to read like doomsday reports.

Are so many of us as bad off as NBER suggests? If so, this country's heading for rough times. Americans can't or won't save enough for a rainy day or an emergency, much less retirement. And in this nasty economy, the chances of people changing those habits is probably close to zero.

And here we are, talking big at the federal and state levels of trimming safety nets for a needy U.S. population. If these NBER insights hold water, more of us will soon be in need of government help than ever before, at least since the Depression.

What a financial Catch-22.

Florida's plight may be rougher thanks to the state's deeper economic hole, sharp declines in home values that erased so many home equity nest eggs, the volume of older Americans already living here and the anticipated flow of baby boomers heading this way.

NBER's first analysis, called "Financially Fragile Households," is the work of three researchers from George Washington University's Financial Literacy Center, Princeton University and Harvard University.

The trio found that about one quarter of Americans said they would be unable to come up with $2,000 if given 30 days to do so.

Another 19 percent said they could do so only by pawning or selling possessions or taking out payday loans (which are expensive, short-term loans offered by garnishing future paychecks).

So that's more than four in 10 Americans who, given a full month, are unable to assemble $2,000. That's really not all that much money these days.

But that's just part of this troubling story.

Yet another NBER working paper is out that suggests either an astonishing lack of awareness or gross indifference by Americans of their money needs in retirement.

Called "Americans' Financial Capability," the analysis by George Washington University professor Annamaria Lusardi found that the majority of Americans have not done any retirement planning.

That's scary now that old-style pension plans that once guaranteed lifetime retiree payments are largely gone.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they have even tried to figure out how much to save for retirement. And 51 percent of those who are 45 to 59 years old said they had yet to calculate how much they'll need.

According to this NBER survey, efforts to make people essentially their own money managers may be a useless exercise. Only 21 to 25 percent of respondents said they have used information sent to them from Social Security.

A third of those surveyed said they experienced a "large and unexpected drop in income" in recent years. Among those earning $25,000 or less, 41 percent reported a drop in income.

So what are the options?

Save more. Cut more costs from your lifestyle.

Think of alternatives to the typical retirement that won't drain your measly savings so quickly.

Can't save $2,000 in 30 days? At this rate, in a couple of years we'll be asking: Can you save $30 in 2,000 days?

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

If so many Americans can't raise $2,000 in 30 days, what lies ahead? 06/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 12:55pm]
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