CUNA survey: Middle class anxiety grows

As fear of a recession grows, the American middle-class is more pessimistic about its ability to achieve the “American Dream,” and women and families with children feel it the most, according to new data from the Madison-based CUNA Mutual Group.

Based on findings from a survey assessing 1,288 U.S. adults ages 18 or older and making an annual income of $35,000 to less than $100,000, CUNA Mutual Group, an insurance and financial services company, says middle-class Americans are less optimistic about their ability to achieve upward mobility than they were six months ago. When the company first polled the middle class in fall 2018, survey respondents gave themselves a “B minus” grade when asked to evaluate their prospects for achieving the American Dream, but given increasingly uncertain economic conditions, that grade has dropped to a “C.”

The survey was fielded in May 2019, a month in which only 72,000 new jobs were created in the U.S. The jobs picture recovered in June, as nonfarm payrolls grew by 224,000, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Trade negotiations with China broke down in May, resulting in more uncertainty.

According to the data, a key driver of this anxiety is fear that after several strong years of economic growth, the economy is about to run out of steam. While 61 percent feel confident about their personal economic situation, close to 50 percent of respondents expressed concern that the U.S. will enter a recession in the next year.

Female respondents are the least bullish about their personal economic situation, as only 54 percent feel somewhat or very confident about their economic position, versus 68 percent of men.

Steve Rick, chief economist for CUNA Mutual Group, says their uncertainty is caused in part by increasing market volatility attributable to headwinds from tariffs and unfinished trade negotiations. “This should be a wake-up call to families to start shoring up their finances now, whether that takes the form of cutting spending, reassessing their savings to avoid having to cut into their retirement to stay afloat, or even refinancing a mortgage if that’ll put them in a better position,” he states. “If there’s one thing 2008 taught us, it’s that you can’t afford to be caught on your heels if a recession hits.”