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Half of American families don't have $400 for an emergency

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.






Shocking number of families aren't making it — when are we going to get pissed about it?

$400.

Nearly half of American families couldn't handle a $400 emergency without a loan, according to the recent Federal Reserve report on the Economic Well-Being of Households in 2014. Most of us just never recovered from the Great Recession of 2007-08.

Nice American Dream.

And just to kick us when we're down, following the market crash and recession, banks stopped giving credit at the very time we needed it most. So where did most turn for help? Predatory lenders.

Title loans, pawnshops, payday loans, rent-to-own — all these types of outrageously high-interest, predatory, non-bank loans are doing huge business. And they're not just giving loans to low-income people; they're lending to upper middle-class and middle-class families using these loans to meet basic needs.

And in way too many cases, basic needs aren't being met. A third of the survey respondents admitted they went without medical treatments because they just couldn't afford them.

Maybe we should work a little harder? Well, we can't work any harder. Americans work so much it's actually killing us. And despite the fact that we're working harder and longer than ever, American middle-class families can't afford the basics.

But what's most amazing is our compulsive need to act like everything is OK. It's our American middle-class pride holding us in a system that's so clearly rigged against us. We were told that if you follow the rules and work hard, you'd be OK. And to admit that despite your job and your work ethic you're still just not able to afford a basic middle-class lifestyle would be like admitting defeat and that you're a lazy bum at the same time.

So what do we do instead? Tell ourselves and everyone else that everything in hunky-dory. The same people who can't afford a $400 car repair or medical bill reported in the survey that things are pretty good. In fact, 65 percent reported that they're "living comfortably" or "doing OK."

Maybe it's time we just start admitting defeat. How much longer can Americans keep this up? Shouldn't there be something we can do to make meeting basic needs a little easier? Maybe a little bigger paycheck? Maybe a little less predatory banking? A financial system that makes plenty of money but that holds itself accountable for fleecing Americans out of their financial stability?

It starts with us. We have to start saying out loud, "It shouldn't be this hard to raise a family in America," once we start realizing it's not just us with our bank statements in the middle of the night, trying to work math magic to get everything covered. It's all of us. And it's wrong. Once we can do that, the rest will follow.

More on raising a family in America

You shouldn't have to be a hero to raise a family (VIDEO)
Survey: The truth about the American family
How money impacts your quality of life

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