More than two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin warned: “He that goes aborrowing, goes asorrowing.” Now, a laugh-til-you-cry commercial portrays a man with a beautiful home and car declaring: “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs. I can barely pay my finance charges. Somebody help me.”
The epidemic of American indebtedness runs from home to government to global marketplace. To examine it, let’s start at home.
Americans used to save, but no longer. Back in the 1950s, a generation of Americans who had survived the Depression and Second World War saved roughly 8% of their income. The savings rate rose and fell slightly over the decades — it went as high as 11% and as low as 7% during the “greed is good” 1980s — but now those days are only a memory.
In the charge-everything start of the new millennium, savings have plummeted: to just 1.8% last year, below 1% since January and at zero in the latest estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.