Half Of America Is Not Prepared For A $100 Emergency

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If you opened your mailbox today and found that you owed the city $100 and you had to pay it right away, would you be able to? A new report claims that nearly half of us are not prepared to absorb this cost, and more than 1-in-4 Americans is up a creek if they have to unexpectedly pay as little as $10. 

This is according to a new survey [PDF] from Bloomberg and New America, which looks at — among other things — our ability to cope with financial surprises.

For instance, when 1,000 online respondents were asked if they were prepared for unexpected expenses, such as medical bills or home repairs, the majority did not have a safety net to cover these bills.

Four out of five survey respondents said they would not be able to afford an unanticipated bill of $1,000. If you’ve ever been hit with a medical emergency that your insurance didn’t fully cover, you probably know that $1,000 is a small amount compared to many hospital bills.

A $100 surprise invoice would put 48% of Americans in a bind, says the survey. That means something like a parking ticket, a minor auto repair, or a broken window would land them in debt.

Even at $10 — an amount that many people will spend on a forgettable lunch on any given day — 28% of respondents said they would have to worry about being able to pay.

Given all this uncertainty, it makes sense that most respondents put a premium on stability. However, most people say they aren’t sure how much they are going to earn from month to month. In fact, a quarter of American workers say their income varies on a weekly basis.

In spite of all this uncertainty, most respondents (73%) said they expect their kids to do better and make more money than they do.

They also reported being a bit more optimistic of their own futures, with 61.7% of survey participants noting that they expected make more money than they do today in a few years. Another 33.1% expect to make the same, while 5.2% say they will likely make less money in the future.

“Our research reminded us that most workers want certainty more than making more money, more than doing work they feel is important and meaningful,” the report states.