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Half of Americans Can't Handle a $400 Emergency

As I flew home from a trip the other day, I read the results of an interesting survey from the Federal Reserve, which found that nearly half of all Americans would be challenged to come up with $400 to cover an emergency expense, and would likely need to borrow or sell something to afford it.

The study was paired with a survey by Bankrate which reported that about half of the adults they surveyed said they or a family member incurred a major expense in the last year. Bankrate’s Analyst Jill Cornfield commented that “it’s not a matter of if, but when an unexpected expense will pop up. If you have a car, a house or apartment, a pet, or a kid - I’ve you’re a member of the human race – something that costs money is bound to go wrong."

As the Chairman of the Board of a non-profit that works with Chicago’s most vulnerable, this came as no surprise. I’d previously known that most Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and the thousands of homeless guests we serve each year often show me living proof that when an unexpected crisis hits and you need to choose between making your next mortgage payment or dealing with a medical bill or other crisis, consequences can get dire very quickly.

That’s why at Care For Friends, we host our annual Sleepout for Homelessness each winter. By creating a community where individuals can get connected with the resources they need, we have been able to see tremendous improvements in the quality of life of Chicagoans. Indeed, our affordable housing partner reports that 76% of their guests are able to find long-term homes after we make the introduction, and 80% of those folks remain housed when we go back for a one-year checkup.

I’d love you to consider joining me this winter by sleeping out for homelessness yourself.  You can find all the information you need online at And if spending a night outdoors during one of the coldest nights in Chicago isn’t your thing, take a look at some of our other participation options as well – including providing financial support to others.

Bankrate’s survey reminds us all that we should expect the unexpected – and the community created by Care For Friends helps support those who might struggle with some of the surprises coming their way. 

Now it's your turn. If emergency struck, would you be able to come up with $400? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you enjoyed this post, let me know by giving it a “Thumbs Up!” and sharing it with your network.

This article is also available in videoblog format. Find it in the archive.

About:  JD Miller is a senior technology executive with a career spanning small startups and large public companies. He uses this expertise to help organizations increase and sustain financial performance. He is also active in Chicago’s philanthropic community, with a special interest in issues related to hunger and homelessness.

You can follow Dr. Miller on Twitter @JDM_Chicago

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