People are running out of money!

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One mystery of the labor shortage is the missing paycheck: How long can people choosing not to work last without an income?

Nobody’s sure, but clues are emerging. The economy continues to recover from the COVID wipeout, and hiring remains strong. Yet Americans are beginning to report more difficulty paying routine bills, not less, and it’s probably related to the end of federal relief measures that kept millions above water during the last 20 months.

In the Census Bureau’s “household pulse” survey last May, 46.7% of respondents said they had no difficulty paying usual household expenses. By December, that had fallen to 39.9%. During the same time period, the portion saying it’s a little, somewhat or very difficult to pay those bills rose from 45.9% to 49.9%. (The remaining 10% or so did not answer the question.)

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