Despite a strong job market and growing economy, the post-recession years haven't been kind to many Americans.
More than 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as struggling to keep ahead of their bills, according to a new survey from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which based its analysis on a panel of 55,000 U.S. consumers. The survey scored financial well-being on a scale from zero to 100, with the typical adult scoring 54 points.
About one-third of Americans said they're suffering through material hardships, which could range from running out of food to lacking the money to pay for medical treatment. Household income is rebounding, but it remains below pre-recession levels, while housing and health care costs have surged. That's crimping many middle- and low-wage American families.
Not surprisingly, people who report the highest levels of financial well-being are those with the highest incomes. They also tend to be older, better educated and own their own homes, the survey found.
Savings and financial cushions are among the biggest differentiators of Americans who are struggling and those who aren't, the CFPB said. Americans with liquid savings of $75,000 or more received a financial well-being score of 68, compared with a score of 41 for those with $250 or less in the bank.
"These findings highlight the importance of savings and other safety nets in helping people to feel financially secure, one of the basic elements of financial well-being," the CFPB said.
No wonder, really, given that Americans with less money in the bank are going to feel pinched. The CFPB found additional traits -- ranging from personal habits to employment -- that can signal whether an American may face financial hardship.
Read on to learn about seven traits that are linked to lower financial well-being.
You have school-age children
Rugrats may bring joy to a family, but they're also linked to slightly lower financial well-being -- at least in their elementary through high school years.
Parents with children 7 to 12 years old reported the lowest financial well-being of all families with kids, with a score of 52, while those with children between 13 to 17 had a score of 53, according to the survey.
Families with either younger or adult children matched the overall median score of 54 points.
The findings jibe with recent research from the Center for Retirement Research, which noted that families with children are at a disadvantage for preparing for retirement, thanks to the cost of food, clothing, child care and education. It found each child is associated with a 3 percent to 4 percent decline in family wealth.
Your income is volatile from month to month
Many American households have experienced a new trend in the post-recession economy: fluctuating monthly income.
A shift to the gig economy and to "just-in-time" work scheduling is causing many workers to experience big jumps or declines in month-to-month income. Such spikes and dips have been found to be common across all demographic groups and can be particularly corrosive because they add to the challenge of financial planning, according to research from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
That's backed up by the CFPB survey, which found that volatile income is linked to lower financial well-being. Americans who say their income varies month-to-month scored an average of 50 points, compared with 56 points for those with stable income.
You don't receive employer benefits
Stable income is important for financial health, as are employer-sponsored benefits, the survey found.
Americans without employer-based health care or retirement savings scored 51 points in financial well-being. Workers who receive health benefits from their employers scored a 56, while those with employer-based retirement plans earned a score of 57, on average.
You don't plan financially beyond 5 years
Americans who plan for the long term tend to be better off than those who don't, the survey found. Those who have a financial planning outlook of five years or more into the future have a score of 59, compared with 51 for those who don't.
Still, the findings prompt a chicken-and-egg question: Are Americans who plot their financial futures better off because they plan, or are they planning ahead simply because they have the assets to do so?
The CFPB noted a "significant overlap" between those who plan and those who don't. "For both factors, at least one-quarter of the non-planners have higher financial well-being than half of the planners," it said.
You aren't confident about financial know-how
Americans who score highly on financial confidence, knowledge and skill are more likely to enjoy financial well-being, the survey found.
Highly confident individuals have a financial well-being score of 63, compared with 50 for those who lack confidence. The results raise questions about whether confidence allows those consumers to take steps to plan ahead, or if they're more confident because they have seen results from their planning.
Americans with financial knowledge, such as understanding compound interest, are also better off than those without it, the survey found.
You pay more than 30 percent of your income to housing
The surging ranks of rent-burdened families are putting more focus on the role of housing costs on financial well-being.
Americans who pay between 30 percent to 50 percent of their income to housing have financial well-being scores of 49, while those who shell out more than half their income to housing costs have a score of 46. By comparison, those with burdens of less than 30 percent have scores of 56.
"Families who spend half or more of their income on housing costs may not have enough money left over for other needs like food, medical expenses, or clothing," the CFPB said.
Your parents didn't teach you about money
Blame your parents: Adults who weren't "financially socialized" by their parents are worse off than those who learned about financial management and skills, the study found.
Adults who learned about financial norms and skills while growing up had a score of 57, compared with 53 for those who had fewer such experiences in their childhood.
The lack of financial literacy skills and knowledge among American teenagers is increasingly a focus of financial advocates and educators. One in five American teens is considered financially illiterate by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), which assesses financial literacy in teens across the globe. Only one in 10 American teens earn the top ranking for financial literacy.
Of course, it may be tough for children to learn if their parents are also financially illiterate, which is why more educators and experts are calling for schools to add financial skills to their curriculums.