Nearly two-fifths of American households are living on the edge financially.
According to a report from the Consumer Federation of America and the Consumer Planner Board of Standards, Inc., 38 percent of households live paycheck to paycheck. In 1997, this figure was 31 percent.
The report, which was based on the responses of 1,508 household decision makers, also found that more than half of those surveyed are behind on retirement savings, up from 38 percent 15 years ago.
The findings coincide with a Bankrate.com survey that showed the financial security of Americans deteriorating. In July, the financial health of Americans fell more than it had in nearly a year, according to the survey. Almost 40 percent of Americans said they feel less at ease about their savings than they did a year ago.
Living paycheck to paycheck is extremely risky as it leaves little wiggle room for any kind of financial blow, such as the loss of a job. A report from earlier this year found that 43 percent of Americans don't have enough money saved up to weather a financial emergency. In other words, 127.5 million people are one mishap away from joining the ranks of the 46 million Americans living below the poverty line.
Savings are suffering as the number of people making a decent income has declined. A December Census report showed that almost half of Americans -- approximately 146 million -- are now classified as low-income or below the poverty line. That group grew by 4 million since 2009.
While a rising number of Americans aren't earning enough to save for the future, desperation has forced many others to draw out of whatever they have set aside. Sixty-three percent of unemployed Americans with 401(k) savings said they have dipped into their savings in order to make ends meet.
The CFA/CFP Board survey found, however, that smart financial planning can often mark the difference between whether or not a household faces financial distress. More than twice the percentage of respondents who identified themselves as planners -- in comparison to those those who admitted to not having a comprehensive financial plan -- said they are also living comfortably. This gap between planners and non-planners held true across income brackets -- households making just around national median income as well as those earning an excess of $100,000.