Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty

The Financial Diaries:
How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty

by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider 


The traditional narrative about financial success in America is that hard work, steady saving, and a little bit of luck will ensure financial security, a comfortable retirement, and a better future for one’s children. But as the 2016 elections demonstrated, large numbers of Americans feel that the “American Dream” is increasingly out of reach. Their insecurity is so pronounced that when asked by Pew Charitable Trusts if they would rather be a little richer or have a more stable financial life, 92 percent of Americans chose stability – this despite 30 years of wage stagnation and radically decreased mobility. 

In The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty, Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider explain why this is happening – and what needs to change – based on the results of their groundbreaking study, the U.S. Financial Diaries (USFD). 

A joint initiative of NYU Wagner’s Financial Access Initiative and the Center for Financial Services Innovation, USFD tracked 235 low- and moderate-income households for a full year to collect highly detailed data on how families manage their finances on a day-to-day basis. The Financial Diaries introduces us to the stories of these families, challenges conventional wisdom about inequality, financial literacy, and how families manage their money, and recommends ways to design financial services policies, programs, and products to better serve American families.

While much of the income and wealth inequality conversation focuses on what’s happening at the top, The Financial Diaries provides an unparalleled view of what life is like in the bottom half.  We see families that are struggling with financial instability and insecurity, but who are also working hard and devising smart and creative ways to cope. By following their dilemmas and responses, we can identify the forces that are out of their control and design new ways to support them.  

"This is a must-read for anyone interested in causes of—and potential solutions to—American poverty." — Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"The Financial Diaries succeeds in that rarest of goals: making you think and care at the same time. This is an invaluable look at the profound economic uncertainties of our era." — Jacob S. Hacker, author of The Great Risk Shift


03/02/2017 - Urban Institute, Washington D.C.
03/06/2017 - LendIt
03/16/2017 - Aspen Institue, Economic Security Summit
03/28/2017 - Citi Foundation Urban Changemakers, Chicago
04/17/2017 - NYU Institute for Public Knowledge, NYC
04/24/2017 - University of Chicago
04/26/2017 - FDIC, Washington D.C.
05/02/2017 - Asset Funders Network, Indianapolis
05/03/2017 - AARP, Washington D.C.
05/08/2017 - NYU Wagner School, NYC
05/16/2017 - CFSI Poverty & Promise, webinar
05/23/2017 - New America Foundation, NYC
05/30/2017 - Walmart, Bentonville, AR
06/13/2017 - CFSI Emerge, Austin, TX
06/19/2017 - Bloomberg Beta, San Francisco
06/20/2017 - Earn, Lendup, San Francisco
06/21/2017 - Paypal, San Jose, CA
06/22/2017 - Core VC, Los Angeles
09/18/2017 - Brookings Institute, Washington D.C.
10/5/2017 - San Francisco Federal Reserve, City of San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment
10/6/2017 - West Coast Poverty Center, University of Washington
10/18/2017 - American Savings Education Council, Washington D.C.
10/22/2017 - Money 20/20, Las Vegas
10/24/2017 - St. Louis Federal Reserve, Office for Household Financial Stability
2/16/2018 - Robert Morris University, Pittsburgh

About the Authors

Jonathan Morduch

Jonathan Morduch is Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, as well as a founder and Executive Director of the NYU Financial Access Initiative. His research focuses on poverty and finance, and he has been featured in The New York Times, The Economist, Financial Times, and NPR. He is co-author of Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day, The Economics of Microfinance, and Economics, an introductory text. He is coeditor of Banking the World: Empirical Foundations of Financial Inclusion.

Morduch has taught on the Economics faculty at Harvard, and has held visiting positions at Stanford, Princeton, Hitotsubashi University and the University of Tokyo. Morduch received a BA from Brown and a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Free University of Brussels for his work on microfinance. In 2016-17, Morduch is the Roger W. Ferguson. Jr. and Annette L. Nazareth member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter:  @JMorduch
Rachel Schneider

Rachel Schneider is senior vice president at the Center for Financial Services Innovation, an organization dedicated to improving the financial health of Americans. Rachel is a sought-after expert who speaks and publishes broadly about issues in consumer finance, offering frank, insightful assessments of the financial challenges facing the majority of Americans. Her research has been featured in the nation’s top publications, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and many others, and she speaks frequently at a broad spectrum of events, from Money2020 to Federal Reserve Board, FDIC and CFPB conferences to CFED’s Assets Learning Conference. 

Though she began her career as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch & Co., Rachel credits her commitment to the potential for innovative finance to solve major social problems to her days as a VISTA Volunteer (now AmeriCorps). She holds a J.D./M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. from UC Berkeley. 

Follow Rachel on Twitter:  @RachelSchneider

For review copies, press inquiries, or speaking engagements, please contact Jessica Krakoski at or 512-904-9253.