Despite many Americans' regular hand-wringing over the country's growing federal deficit, a recent report shows that excessive consumer spending is the nation's number one economic problem.
A study by the American Business Conference shows that while government's huge budget deficits have contributed to the deep decline in the national savings rate, Americans themselves are primarily to blame.The rate of personal savings fell from 7.9 percent in the 1970s to a mere 2.1 percent from 1985 to 1987. That's 2 cents on each dollar earned. To put it in perspective, families with an annual income of $35,000 per year can only manage to save $735 every 12 months - or $2 per day.
For many, that amount would just about cover the mortgage payment - for one month. Make you squirm a bit? It should.
The collective quest to convert our cash into anything but savings accounts not only puts Americans last in per-capita savings among major industrialized nations, it amounts to a roll of the dice in case of personal catastrophe.
At the rate Americans' save, any single fluctuation in the overextended daily routine - loss of a job, unexpected medical expenses, even a national economic downturn - could and does throw many into personal bankruptcy. Utah bankruptcy rates are among the highest in the nation, and rising at a double-digit rate each year.
Last fall, a group of leading economists asked the new president to set ambitious national goals to boost personal savings and investment. Failure to do so, they said, will result in an inevitable decline in the U.S. standard of living, at best, and could provoke a national financial crisis.
Authors of the American Business Conference study suggest two excellent strategies - in addition to cutting federal spending:
-A campaign to promote savings and the issuance of `supersaver' bonds to encourage households to save for the long run.
-Elimination of incentives in the federal tax code for corporate buyouts, eliminating incentives for corporate debt and reducing the trend toward higher cash payouts to shareholders.
The United States now has the dubious distinction of being the largest debtor nation in the world - a dismal commentary on a nation that was once the globe's largest and most able lender.
Americans must rethink their personal spending habits and save enough to secure their own financial futures. Waiting for Congress to set the example could well prove catastrophic, both individually and nationally.