Consumers have curbed their spending in the wake of the financial crisis, but few are saving more and many still struggle to make ends meet, according to a new report from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
The report, released Wednesday by Finra's Investor Education Foundation, found that consumers nationwide have reduced spending slightly since Finra conducted its last "financial capability" study in 2009. However, 19% of Americans still spend more than they earn and more than half of respondents said they do not have "rainy day" funds to cover three months of expenses.
The report says a lack of financial education particularly among younger workers in certain states is the primary reason many Americans have little in savings.
"This survey reveals that many Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet, plan ahead and make sound financial decisions and that financial literacy levels remain low, especially among our youngest workers," said Finra Foundation Chairman Richard Ketchum, in the release. "No matter how you slice and dice it, this rich, new dataset underscores the need for us to continue to explore innovative ways to build financial capability among consumers."
The study was released in Washington by representatives of Finra, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Treasury Department and United Way Worldwide.
The survey posed five basic financial literacy questions online to more than 25,500 Americans. On average, consumers answered 2.88 questions correctly and only 14% got all five questions right.
The results show "the need to encourage consumers to save in order to protect themselves from the effects of economic shocks," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray, in prepared remarks. "We have built the greatest system of economic liberty in the history of mankind, but it will only endure if we take the necessary steps to strengthen that system from the bottom up, starting with the individual."
Fewer of the respondents own a home compared to the first survey in 2009. Among those who said they were homeowners, 65% had a mortgage or home equity loan in 2012 compared to 71% in 2009. The study pointed to "a sharp contraction" in credit availability as cause for the decline in homeownership. Only 14% said they were still underwater on their mortgage based on the amount they thought they could sell it for.
The report also showed severe financial disparities across states, with Mississippi residents being the least financially capable and California citizens as the most financially capable. All of the agencies backing the survey say the results illustrate the need to push for uniform financial education in public schools.
"Education helps create new businesses and jobs, supports the middle class, and spurs productivity and growth," said Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions Cyrus Amir-Mokri, in prepared remarks. "We want to expand access to education beyond high school, for example, because workers with post-secondary training are more likely to be employed, earn higher wages, and rise up the economic ladder."
Only 19% of respondents said they actually participated in a financial education course either in school or through an employer. But 89% of Americans agreed that financial education should be offered in schools.
The CFPB in particular, recently pushed for lawmakers to implement financial training in standardized tests and incentivize teachers.
"When we do not teach children about personal finance about managing household budgets, saving for the future, or making informed decisions about larger investments in an education or a home we are failing them in a shameful and costly way," Cordray said. "The United States cannot continue to miss the mark on the importance of financial education."