Americans forced to get by while making less

Friday, June 15, 2012

If the family budget seems a little tighter than it used to be, there's a reason. It probably is.

McCook and Southwest Nebraska were spared the extremes of the boom-and-bust that the rest of the country has felt.

A tight housing market has helped support home prices -- still a bargain for out-of-towners moving in -- and good commodity prices have kept the agricultural economy rolling along.

But neither are we immune -- jobs are as much a precious commodity here as anywhere, and jobs with full benefits prized above all, even at relatively modest rural Nebraska wages.

The Federal Reserve reported Monday that the median American family, in 2010, had no more wealth than it did in the early 1990s, seeing its net worth drop from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010, three fourths of that drop attributable to the crash in housing prices.

But it wasn't all housing; median family income fell to $45,800 in 2010 from $49,600 in 2007. By comparison, McCook's median household income was estimated at $38,974 in 2011, and Nebraska's $49,342.

McCook residents made an average of $21,465 per person in 2010 dollars, compared to Nebraska's $25,229.

If they're anything like the rest of America, just over half of McCookites saved any money in 2010, compared to 56.4 percent in 2007 -- nationally, a smaller group of families is saving more money, while more and more are saving nothing.

Those who are saving are doing it for a rainy day, rather than for retirement, education or a down payment on a home. Some 2.1 percent fewer households reported having debt, but three-quarters still have debt, and the median amount did not change.

But, low interest rates have helped ease the burden of debt, and many families have refinanced mortgages and other long-term loans.

And, 6.7 percent fewer families have credit card debt, or 39.4 percent of them, and the median balance fell 16.1 percent to $2,600. They're also carrying fewer cards -- 32 percent of families reported having no credit cards, up from 27 percent in 2007.

Yes, private families are doing better with less income, because they have to. It's not unreasonable to expect government at all levels to do the same.

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