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    HomeBusinessFinancePandemic savings boom may be ending, and many feel short of cash.

    Pandemic savings boom may be ending, and many feel short of cash.


    Americans have collectively saved trillions of dollars since the pandemic began. But they aren’t exactly feeling flush with cash — and now there are signs that the pandemic-era savings boom may be coming to an end.

    Savings soared during the first year of the pandemic as the federal government handed out hundreds of billions of dollars in unemployment benefits, economic impact payments and other forms of aid, and as households spent less on vacations, concerts and other in-person activities. The saving rate — the share of after-tax income that is invested or saved, rather than spent — topped 33 percent in April 2020 and remained elevated through late last year.

    But the saving rate fell in the second half of 2021, returning roughly to its prepandemic level of about 7 percent last fall. In January, Americans saved just 6.4 percent of their after-tax income, the lowest monthly saving rate since 2013, as millions of employees lost hours because of the latest coronavirus wave, and this time the government did not step in to provide aid.

    Still, Americans in the aggregate have roughly $2.7 trillion in “excess savings” accumulated since the pandemic began, by some estimates.

    In a survey conducted this month for The New York Times by the online research firm Momentive, however, only 16 percent of respondents said they had more in savings than before the pandemic, and 50 percent said they had less. Among lower-income households, just 9 percent said they had more in savings, and 64 percent said they had less.

    The government measures the total savings of all households, which can be skewed by a relative handful of rich people. And it uses a broader definition of “saving” than most laypeople probably do — paying down debt, for example, is considered “saving” in official government statistics.

    But those factors can’t fully explain the disconnect. According to anonymous banking records reviewed by researchers at the JPMorgan Chase Institute, for example, median checking account balances remained significantly above their prepandemic level at the end of December, though they have fallen since their peak last spring. And while high-income households had far more money in their accounts on average, low-income households had experienced a bigger jump in savings on a percentage basis.

    “We’re still seeing this picture that cash balances are still elevated in general, and they’re elevated more so for low-income families,” said Fiona Greig, co-president of the institute.

    Dr. Greig said it was possible that balances had shrunk further since December, when monthly child tax credit payments ended. Brianna Richardson, a research scientist at Momentive, said it was also possible that survey respondents were misremembering how much money they had before the pandemic, perhaps because their savings grew so much earlier in the crisis. Inflation could also be affecting people’s assessments, because the same dollar amount in savings won’t go as far as prices rise.

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