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The Recovering Financial Health of Americans

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This infographic is available as a poster.

Financial Health

Financial Health

This infographic is available as a poster.

The Recovering Financial Health of Americans

Did you spend less and save more due to the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, you’re not alone.

Overall, the percent of Americans with strong financial health increased by 2% from 2020-2021. This was largely due to the aforementioned behavioral changes, along with government interventions like stimulus payments that helped Americans pay off their debt.

However, the economic recovery has not been even for everyone. This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments looks at which Americans have seen the biggest increase in their financial health, broken down by race, household income, gender, and location.

What is Financial Health?

Before we dive into the results, let’s take a look at what financial health means. It is measured using eight indicators within four broad categories:

  • Spend: Spend less than income and pay bills on time
  • Save: Have sufficient liquid savings and long-term savings
  • Borrow: Have manageable debt and a prime credit score
  • Plan: Have appropriate insurance and plan ahead financially

People are considered to be financially healthy when they have strong scores across all of the above indicators.

Changes in Financial Health

In order to measure financial health, the Financial Health Network surveyed 6,403 respondents in April and May 2021. Below are the changes in financially healthy people, measured in percentage points (p.p.), from 2020-2021. Statistically significant responses, where the authors are 95% confident that the observed results are real and not an error caused by randomness, are marked with an asterisk.

GroupChange in Financially Healthy People (2020-2021)
Overall2 p.p*
Black9 p.p.*
Latinx4 p.p.*
Asian American11 p.p.*
White0 p.p.
< $30,000 Household income2 p.p.*
$30,000 - $59,999 Household income2 p.p.
$60,000 - $99,999 Household income2 p.p.
> $100,000 Household income1 p.p.
Men4 p.p.*
Women1 p.p.
Northeast2 p.p.
Midwest3 p.p.
South5 p.p.*
West-1 p.p.

With an 11 percentage point jump, Asian Americans saw the biggest increase and are now the most financially healthy of any race. The increase was due to an absence in major employment disruptions, growth in employment, and generous unemployment benefits for those who did experience disruptions.

In addition, the proportion of Black people considered financially healthy nearly doubled due to two primary factors: receipt of stimulus payments and reduced spending. This helped Black families to build up savings, pay bills on time, and improve their credit scores.

While men experienced an increase in financial health, women were disproportionately affected by employment disruptions and childcare responsibilities. For instance, women were more than twice as likely as men not to work due to childcare responsibilities in 2021. Meanwhile, men reported bigger improvements in their liquid and long-term savings than women.

People with a household income under $30,000 saw slight improvements in their financial health, primarily due to unemployment benefits and reduced spending. However, lower-income households saw a significant reduction in the “planning ahead financially” indicator, signifying this could be a temporary improvement.

A Current Snapshot

While it is primarily marginalized groups that saw the biggest improvements over the last year, large gaps in financial health remain. Here is the current percentage of people who are financially healthy for each group.

Financial Health

The starkest differences are by income level. People with a household income under $30,000 are nearly five times less likely to be financially healthy than those who have a household income over $100,000.

However, gaps occur across race, gender, and location as well:

  • The proportion of Black and Latinx people who are financially healthy is significantly lower than that of Asian Americans and White people.
  • Despite an increase in female breadwinners in recent years, women are much less likely than men to have strong financial health.
  • Of all regions, Americans living in the South are the least likely to be financially healthy.

At an aggregate level, only one-third of Americans are considered to be financially healthy.

A Continued Recovery?

While it appears that government relief efforts have helped traditionally marginalized groups, it remains unclear what will happen now that these programs are winding down. Not only that, large gaps in financial health still exist. The Financial Health Network recommends policies tailored to help close these gaps, such as universal child care and policies that reduce the disparities in educational opportunity.

Of course, government programs, macroeconomic conditions, and individual behaviors will all play a role in Americans’ financial health going forward. If you were fortunate enough to spend less during the pandemic, do you plan to continue saving more? Your actions could help you build a solid foundation to manage expenses, while also planning ahead for long-term needs.

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Markets in a Minute

The Projected Growth of Alternative Assets

Alternative assets — assets beyond stocks and bonds — are projected to grow by 62% from 2020-2025. Here’s which ones may grow the fastest.

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Alternative Assets

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The Projected Growth of Alternative Assets

When it comes to investing, the focus is typically on stocks and bonds. However, in recent years, many investors have turned their attention to another opportunity: alternative assets.

In fact, global assets under management (AUM) in alternatives are projected to grow by 62% from 2020-2025. In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we explain what alternative assets are and which categories will see the most growth.

What are Alternative Assets?

Alternative assets are investments that fall outside of the traditional asset classes of stocks, bonds, and cash. They are broken up into the following asset classes:

  • Private equity: Investing in companies that are not publicly traded or listed on a stock exchange. This can also include the acquisition of public companies by a private investment fund or investor.
  • Private debt: Investing in companies in the form of debt as opposed to equity. Private debt is not typically financed by banks, nor traded or issued in an open market.
  • Hedge funds: Largely unregulated funds that can invest across a wide range of asset classes and instruments. These funds aim to ‘hedge’ risk and maximize profits regardless of which direction the market moves through long (buy) or short (sell) positions.
  • Real estate: The acquisition, financing, and ownership of real estate assets by private investment vehicles, funds, or firms. This includes residential, commercial, and industrial properties both at the time of original listing and when being sold between two parties afterwards.
  • Infrastructure: Investment in services and facilities considered essential to the economic development of a society. This includes energy, logistics, telecoms, transportation, utilities, and waste management.
  • Natural resources: Investment in the development, enhancement, or production of various types of natural resources. This includes agriculture, renewable energy, timberland, water, and metals.

In contrast to traditional markets, alternative assets are typically less liquid and less regulated.

Global Growth

According to Preqin, all alternative asset classes will see significant growth in global AUM. Here’s how the projections break down from 2020 to 2025:

 20202021P2022P2023P2024P2025PCAGR
Private equity4.4T$5.1T$5.9T$6.8T$7.9T$9.1T15.6%
Private debt$848B$945B$1.1T$1.2T$1.3T$1.5T11.4%
Hedge funds$3.6T$3.7T$3.8T$4.0T$4.1T$4.3T3.6%
Real estate$1.0T$1.1T$1.1T$1.2T$1.2T$1.2T3.4%
Infrastructure$639B$668B$697B$729B$761B$795B4.5%
Natural resources$211B$222B$233B$245B$258B$271B5.1%
Total$10.7T$11.7T$12.9T$14.1T$15.5T$17.2T9.8%

Private equity will grow the fastest, and will also see the highest growth in dollar terms. In fact, its proportion of alternative assets’ AUM is expected to rise from 41% in 2020 to 53% in 2025. Preqin predicts that this will be due to both strong performance and asset flows, with 79% of surveyed investors planning to increase their allocation to private equity.

Private debt is also expected to see strong growth. With greater risk appetite than banks, private debt funds could be active in emerging technologies such as pharmaceuticals and the remote working industry. These funds take on higher risk in anticipation of higher yield potential, an attractive proposition for investors amid low interest rates in many areas.

Similarly, investors will likely turn to real estate for its yield potential. Long-leased assets usually offer stable cash flows and indexed rents, making them one of the asset classes that may hedge inflation. However, the industry is projected to have the lowest compound annual growth rate, given the uncertainty facing office and retail spaces post COVID-19.

The Opportunities in Alternative Assets

Outside of investments such as liquid alternatives, alternative assets have typically only been accessible to institutional investors. However, recent regulatory changes by the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) mean that private markets are opening up to individual investors if they meet certain criteria.

Alternative assets offer a number of compelling opportunities, including portfolio diversification, lower correlation with public markets, and potential outperformance. In fact, research has found that private equity was the best-performing asset class in a public pension portfolio, based on median annualized returns from 2010-2020.

According to Preqin’s projections, it appears investors are realizing this potential. While stocks and bonds will likely remain central to portfolios, alternative assets can help to broaden investors’ horizons.

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Sustainable Investing Strategies by Popularity

We show the assets under management of various sustainable investing strategies to see which ones are the most and least popular.

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Sustainable Investing Strategies

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Sustainable Investing Strategies by Popularity

If you wanted to invest sustainably in the 1960s, your options were fairly limited. Sustainable investing strategies kicked off with socially responsible investing, where investors could exclude stocks or entire industries from their portfolio based on business activities. For example, if you didn’t agree with smoking you could exclude tobacco production companies.

Fast forward 60 years, and investors have many more approaches available to them. From exclusionary screening to ESG integration, which strategy is the most popular? This Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments shows global assets under management for various sustainable investing strategies, to see which ones are used the most and the least globally.

The Types of Sustainable Investing Strategies

Before we dive into the numbers, it’s helpful to know the definitions of the various sustainable investing strategies. The Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, who put together this data, has classified sustainable investing into the seven core strategies below.

  • ESG integration: The explicit inclusion of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into financial analysis
  • Negative/exclusionary screening: The exclusion of certain sectors, companies, or countries based on activities considered not investable
  • Corporate engagement & shareholder action: Influencing corporate behavior through actions such as shareholder proposals
  • Norms-based screening: Screening investments based on international norms, such as those issued by the UN
  • Sustainability-themed/thematic investing: Investing in themes specifically contributing to sustainable solutions, such as diversity
  • Positive screening/best-in-class: Investment in sectors, companies, or projects with positive ESG performance relative to industry peers
  • Impact/community investing: Investing to achieve positive ESG impacts, and/or investing in traditionally underserved communities

While these sustainable investing strategies differ in their approaches, they all require investors to consider ESG factors as they build and manage portfolios.

Sustainable Investing Strategies by Global AUM

Below, we show the global assets under management (AUM) of the sustainable investing strategies in 2020. It should be noted that these numbers include some double counting, as asset managers may apply more than one strategy to a given pool of assets.

StrategyGlobal Assets Under Management (2020)
ESG integration$25.2T
Negative/exclusionary screening$15.0T
Corporate engagement and shareholder action$10.5T
Norms-based screening$4.1T
Sustainability-themed investing$1.9T
Positive/best-in-class screening$1.4T
Impact/community investing$352B

In 2020, ESG integration overtook negative/exclusionary screening to become the most popular of all sustainable investing strategies. Its rise can likely be attributed to having access to more specific data, such as ESG ratings, that make an inclusive approach easier to implement. In addition, many investors are beginning to understand that considering ESG factors alongside financial analysis may help manage investment risks and increase return potential.

Coming in at third place, corporate engagement and shareholder action has over $10 trillion in assets worldwide. A separate report found that the number of ESG-related campaigns went up in 2021, and the success of investor activist campaigns increased slightly year over year. In fact, 25% of surveyed U.S. boards say they have already tied executive compensation to ESG metrics or are planning to do so.

Impact/community investing has the least AUM globally. It is most popular in the U.S., where 60% of the strategy’s total assets are held.

Growth Rate by Strategy

Of course, the above data reflects that some strategies–like exclusionary screening–have been around for longer periods of time. In contrast, the idea of impact investing was spurred in 2009 after the Global Impact Investing Network was launched.

Another way of gauging each strategy’s popularity would be to look at its recent growth. Here’s the compound annual growth rate of the sustainable investing strategies from 2016-2020.

Sustainable Investing Strategies

Sustainability-themed investing saw the highest growth. In 2020, it overtook positive/best-in-class screening to become the fifth most popular strategy. This growth mirrors the rise of thematic investing more broadly, as investors aim to capitalize on long-term structural shifts.

Norms-based screening was the only strategy to see negative growth, likely due to the way it is defined. Some standards falling under this strategy are now minimum and mandatory requirements by various national governments, especially in Europe where regulations have tightened. Because it is expected that these regulations are being followed, investors are least likely to say that norms-based screening is the strategy they use when they classify their sustainable investments.

Spoilt for Choice

Compared to the 1960s, today’s investors have many more sustainable investing strategies at their fingertips. However, with more options comes a new challenge: which strategies should investors consider?

The answer will depend on an investor’s objectives, but this data can give some insight on how other investors are approaching sustainable investing.

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