NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why Do Americans Not Save More? Or Do They?

October 29, 1999

The already low rate of personal savings in the U.S. was negative for 10 of the 14 months between May 1998 and June 1999 and averaged -0.3 percent. Is this negative savings an artifact of the way savings are measured? Or does it show Americans are spendthrifts unwilling to save?

  • One reason Americans may not save is suggested by a poll released yesterday that found many Americans believe they stand a better chance of getting rich by winning a lottery or sweepstakes than by saving and investing.
  • According to the survey by the Consumer Federal of America and Primerica, 40 percent of Americans in households with incomes of $35,000 or less believe they are more likely to accumulate a $500,000 nest egg by picking winning lottery numbers or entering sweepstakes.
  • Some 30 percent believe the goal can be reached through patient saving and investing of relatively modest sums, reports the White House Bulletin.

However, personal savings have been officially been defined as the difference between disposable personal income -- from current production -- and personal outlays. Many analysts have complained that this measure undercounts savings because it does not include realized capital gains in disposable personal income but does include the tax liability on such gains when calculating disposable personal income.

Nor does it include unrealized capital gains as part of personal savings -- although the rise in the stock market has greatly increased the value of personal portfolios.

Sources: Peter Yoo "Savings Accounts What Are They Worth?" National Economic Trends, September 1999, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; "Poll Shows Americans Underestimate Value of Saving," White House Bulletin, October 28, 1999.


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