Americans say they are more concerned about just one thing in 2018 (it’s not wages or job security)

How are you feeling? How are you really feeling?

The stock market has been on a rollercoaster ride, spooking and confusing investors. Political tensions with China are fragile and unpredictable. There’s growing concerns among business leaders of a recession in 2019. And yet Americans say they feel better about 6 out of 7 key aspects of their lives than they did a year ago, according to the annual “New Year’s Resolution Study” from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America released late Thursday.

Here’s one thing that people feel more worried about:

• 50% are concerned about the country’s political environment versus 45% who felt the same way last year; this is the only rise in concern out of 7 questions.

Americans felt more optimistic about the other 6 issues:

• Despite the rhetoric surrounded immigration or maybe because of it, 37% are worried about continued terrorism threats verus 40% last year.

• In the face of volatile markets and increased concern of a recession in 2019, 19% were concerned about markets versus 38% last year.

• 23% of people surveyed say they’re concerned about stagnant wages, but that’s down 7 percentage points from 30% last year.

• People cited job security as a top concern (18%), but that percentage is also significantly reduced from 26% in 2017.

• 49% of Americans say they will choose health and wellness as their top priority for 2019 versus 27% who chose financial stability.

• 29% are concerned about identity theft and cybersecurity versus 38% last year, despite data scandals at certain global enterprises, including Facebook

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The gap between people who chose health and wellness (49%) over financial stability (27%) is the largest in six years. Likely encouraged by the lowest unemployment rate in 48 years and wages up over 3% on the year, 29% of respondents aged 18 to 34 cited stagnant salaries as one of their most worrisome threats versus 37% last year. (The survey, which this year received answers from a nationally representative sample of 1,278 respondents, is in its 10th year.)

Only 50% listed money management as a New Year’s resolution they’re most likely to keep, down from 60% last year.

“Many people seem to be more positive about their personal financial situation, with millennials in particular displaying a curious resistance to financial despondency,” said Paul Kelash, vice president of Consumer Insights, Allianz Life. “The only warning might be to ensure personal optimism doesn’t lead to unnecessary spending that can derail a financial plan.” (He has cause for concern: Revolving credit, which includes credit-card debt, recently exceeded $1 trillion.)

There are also signs that young people, in particular, will continue spending in 2019. Despite reporting better financial habits, the latest report noted “some concerning trends.” Only 50% of people listed money management as a New Year’s resolution they’re most likely to keep, down from 60% last year. What’s more, the desire to better manage their money and put more money aside for a rainy day dropped for all respondents to 37% this year from 42% in 2017.

Don’t miss: Brace yourself: This is how much America’s 1% has saved

The long-term change in people’s financial perspective appears more bleak than the Allianz study suggests. The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., recently asked nearly 43,000 people in 38 countries if they felt better off than 50 years ago. Residents in 20 countries said people like them were better off than they were half-a-century ago. The U.S. was among 18 countries in which people said they were actually worse off than half a century ago.

The overall picture is not as healthy as it may seem for Americans: Just over half of Americans own stocks.

As for savings, the overall picture is not as healthy as it may seem for Americans. The median U.S. household currently holds just $11,700 in savings, according to an analysis released last August of Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data by personal-finance site Magnify Money. The bottom 20% by income have no savings and the second lowest 20% income earners have $26,450 saved. (Median balances or the midpoint value are lower than the average savings rates.)

People may have reason to care less about the recent stock-market volatility, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Just over half of Americans own stocks, a Gallup report recently concluded. That includes 401(k) plans, shares in an equity mutual fund and/or an IRA account. Worse, two-thirds of Americans do not even participate in or have access to a 401(k) plan, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In other words, they simply don’t have a vested interest.

Don’t miss: One in five American households have ‘zero or negative’ wealth

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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