Spokane Journal of Business

Study: Workers more optimistic about nation's outlook

Many still holding off, though, on long-term financial commitments

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More American workers feel secure about the country's overall economic outlook, judging by new research from the Principal Financial Well-Being Index.

More than a third of workers (35 percent) who took part in the survey described their economic outlook as optimistic, up from just 21 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the last time workers were asked their views on the overall economy.

Despite an increasingly positive view of the economy, American workers remain cautious when assessing their expectations for the next year. While 40 percent of survey respondents think the economy will improve throughout 2013, 60 percent still believe the economy will stay the same or worsen. Additionally, 44 percent of employees queried for the survey said they are holding off from making long-term financial commitments, such as buying a home or a car, due to the current state of the economy.

The Principal Financial Well-Being Index surveys employees at small- and mid-sized businesses with 10 to 1,000 workers, and is part of a series on the financial well-being of American workers released quarterly by the Principal Financial Group. This latest survey, involving 1,100 employees, was conducted online by Harris Interactive in the first quarter of this year.

"When you look at the full scope of the data, it's clear people are feeling better about the financial environment the further we get from the financial crisis," says Luke Vandermillen, vice president of retirement and investor services at The Principal. "But the long-term effect of the crisis is workers' expectations remain muted; they are still uncertain that this is a sustainable recovery."

With the increase in economic optimism, workers feel encouraged to step up their savings. The survey shows that more Americans are planning for their retirement. Only 28 percent said they have not yet planned for financial security in retirement, down from 32 percent last quarter. Those working with a financial adviser appeared to be more prepared. Seventy-five percent of workers who use a financial professional said they are planning for retirement security, compared with only 49 percent of workers who don't use a financial professional.

"Regardless of whether you are optimistic or cautious about the economy, it is important to continue to focus on taking concrete steps towards building your financial future," Vandermillen says. "It is encouraging to see these numbers improving. And of course we're not surprised to see those working with a financial adviser are most prepared for their financial future."

Additional findings included the following:

•Nearly half of those surveyed (46 percent), up 5 percentage points from last quarter, rated themselves as financially healthy.

•Gen Y respondents rated themselves the highest for financial health. Fifty-six percent of Gen Y employees rated themselves as financially healthy, compared with 41 percent of Gen X workers and 42 percent of baby boomers.

•Of the 64 percent of workers who expected to receive a federal or state tax refund from their 2012 tax return, 46 percent said they planned to save or invest the refund, 38 percent said they will use it to pay down short-term debt, and 23 percent said they will pay down long-term debt. Fifteen percent said they planned to spend their refund on consumer products, and 7 percent said they will spend it on a big-ticket purchase.

"As Americans receive their tax refunds this year, it is encouraging to see employees are motivated to save or invest," Vandermillen says. "The simple act of using your refund to pay off debt this year could save you hundreds of dollars in future interest charges, freeing up more money to put toward longer-term goals such as retirement."

This was one in a series of quarterly studies to identify and track changes in the workplace of small- and mid-sized, growing businesses. The first Principal Financial Well-Being Index survey was conducted in the United States in 2000.

The Principal Financial Group is a investment management leader offering retirement services, insurance products, and asset management. Founded in 1879, it has $403 billion in assets under management and serves 18.3 million customers worldwide from offices in Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and the U.S.

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