Everyone’s Pandemic Savings Are Getting Smaller — How Will It Affect the Economy?

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times when it came to personal finances during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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More than 22 million jobs were lost at the beginning of the outbreak, according to The New York Times, yet personal savings soared. The U.S. Federal Reserve estimated that U.S. households accumulated about $2.3 trillion in savings in 2020 and through the summer of 2021. 

This was due in part to stimulus payments and a large boost to standard unemployment benefits that gave eligible workers an extra $600 per week in supplemental benefits. Not to mention, isolation guidelines and personal safety concerns kept many people homebound and spending less on dining out, shopping and travel. 

Yet, as the Federal Reserve reported this past October, those same households have now wiped out about a quarter of the record-breaking personal stockpile as the saving rate has dropped below its pre-pandemic trend. As of October, the savings rate stands at 2.3%, down from a high point of 4.7% earlier this year and 7.3% in 2021, according to Vox. 

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Coupled with the expiration of the unemployment supplement, the extended Child Tax Credit program and federal stimulus payments is the fact that Americans have been experiencing the highest rates of inflation in 40 years (still at 7.1% as of the latest CPI report, released Dec. 13), and the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates several times in 2022 as a measure to curb spending. 

And those counting on receiving student loan relief, per President Biden’s plan announced in August that would provide $10,000 in debt cancellation to millions of people, have had those hopes dashed as several lawsuits have popped up that have prohibited the program from moving forward. As GOBankingRates previously reported, some experts think the Supreme Court will ultimately deem the program illegal.

All of it has snowballed into a financial mess for many average working Americans who have been left with no choice but to dip into their savings and emergency funds to help pay for spikes in housing, food and gas. Two-thirds of Americans say they’re spending down savings to cope with inflation, Forbes reported. Consumer debt grew $266 billion in the first quarter of 2022, adding to the problem.

Some worry that people’s dwindling savings could trigger a full-blown recession. 

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“Economists are growing increasingly concerned about a potential recession next year as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to bring inflation under control,” Vox reported. “Consumer spending is key to ensuring economic growth, making up about two-thirds of GDP. But with pandemic savings dwindling, many Americans might not be able to or choose not to spend as much as they have been during the recovery, which could further slow the economy.”

“Excess savings are falling by about $100 billion each month, and upper-income households now hold about 60% of those savings,” Vox reported, citing Bank of America estimates. While that has been a boost for the economy, high-earners have been some of the biggest spenders, keeping things afloat — a dynamic that could change if wealthier households pull back on the purse strings. 

Shrinking savings also means that lower and middle-income households will have less to fall back on if the economy weakens, which could further curb spending.

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One person worried about the shrinking of pandemic-era savings is JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon who told CNBC recently that while Americans are in good shape, the excess savings they’ve amassed will run out midyear next year. “When you’re looking out forward, those things may very well derail the economy and cause a mild or hard recession that people worry about.”

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined GOBankingRates.com in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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