The US economy is finally hitting its stride. After eight years of lackluster performance following the Great Recession, employers are adding more jobs and pay is starting to tick up, even for those on the lower end of the wage scale. So, you might expect that the financial concerns of American families are beginning to ease. You would be wrong.
By many measures, the financial security of many workers and their families remains fragile. For example, the household savings rate has fallen to just over three percent from six percent in 2016, and the number of workers borrowing from their retirement accounts to pay for current expenses is on the rise.
Anxiety over personal finances can be a distraction at work, and a growing number of employers are recognizing that it’s hurting their bottom line. In response, some businesses are bringing financial education, tools and products to the workplace to help all their employees boost their financial wellness.
Workplace-based financial wellness programs are employer-sponsored services designed to improve employees’ financial security beyond saving for retirement. They range from seminars on budgeting and reducing debt, to one-on-one time with a financial coach, to short-term loans and programs to access earned wages before pay-day.
Hard figures are difficult to come by, but it is clear that large firms are far more likely to offer these financial benefits than small and mid-size firms. Our review of the research found that between 25 percent and 50 percent of large firms offer financial wellness services to their workers, while for small and mid-size firms the range is 13 percent to 23 percent.
Ironically, more workers at small and mid-sized businesses are likely to benefit from financial wellness services than large firms. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that small businesses tend to hire more people who are under 25, have a high school degree or less and have low to moderate incomes. And it’s no surprise that people with lower incomes and less education are more likely to find it difficult to get by financially. But, low- and moderate-income families that are able to engage in positive financial and economic behaviors can be as financially resilient as upper-income families that do not.
That is why the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, with support from the Prudential Foundation, has launched its workplace financial wellness project. As part of its Improving Job Quality Initiative, the National Fund is exploring this rapidly-changing area of employee benefits to help employers improve the quality of jobs among low- and medium-wage workers.
In the coming year, the National Fund and its network will work with employers to learn how to bring financial wellness services to workers in small and mid-sized firms. In the meantime, if you know of small or mid-sized firms that are offering financial wellness services to their employees, let us know. Contact Steve Adams, consultant to the National Fund, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and keep an eye out here for updates on our research.