Survey reveals disconnect between middle class aspirations and resources

The middle class believes their ability to achieve the American Dream remains alive, but their own assessment of their financial security suggests they may be too optimistic, according to a new survey from CUNA Mutual Group, the leading provider of lending, insurance, investment and financial technology solutions for credit unions.

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

This somewhat sunny outlook is further supported by respondents’ assessment of their financial security: 62 percent say they feel somewhat or very confident about their personal financial situation, and nearly half (46 percent) believe it is very unlikely that they will miss a loan payment over the next one to two years.

This cautious optimism, however, belies a more troubling financial picture: More than half of respondents are ill-equipped for an emergency, with 23 percent saying they have no emergency savings and 30 percent saying they only have 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 include:

Retirement remains a vulnerable spot:

Few survey respondents feel prepared for retirement, with only 28 percent saying they’ll 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: 38 percent say they feel they’ll be able to buy a new car in their lifetime, and 37 percent say they’ll be able to travel internationally.

A lack of financial literacy education and support may be driving this lack of long-term preparedness. According to another CUNA Mutual Group survey of retirement plan participants earlier this year, understanding available tools and resources and learning how to budget and manage debt are key areas where employees seek more information to better achieve their retirement goals.