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updated: 8/11/2011 10:15 AM

Survey: Number of workers living paycheck to paycheck at pre-recession levels

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CHICAGO -- As the U.S. keeps a close eye on the stock market, CareerBuilder's survey shows the financial situation for some households is improving.

Forty-two percent of workers say they usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, an improvement from 43 percent in 2010 and in line with levels seen back in 2007. The number of workers who have missed a bill payment has decreased year-over-year; one-in-five (20 percent) say they have missed payments on bills in the last year, slightly improved from 22 percent at this time last year, according to a nationwide survey of more than 5,200 workers by CareerBuilder that was conducted from May 18 to June 3.

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Workers making six figures are seeing improvements as well.  Fourteen percent of workers making six figures say they live paycheck to paycheck, down from 17 percent in 2010. Less than one-in-ten (6 percent) reported they can't make ends meet every month, an improvement from 8 percent last year.

Female workers continue to struggle more with their personal finances than their male counterparts.  Forty-six percent of female workers and 38 percent of male workers say they live paycheck to paycheck. Nearly one quarter (24 percent) of female workers say they have missed a bill payment over the last 12 months, higher than male workers at 17 percent.

"A better employment picture in the U.S. has brought more steady incomes into households and workers are paying much closer attention to spending decisions and savings," said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.  "The majority of U.S. workers (72 percent) reported they are more fiscally responsible since the recession and have made a variety of changes to their living and spending habits."

While being fiscally responsible may mean having to do without, workers said they would absolutely not give up the following regardless of their financial concerns:

• Internet connection, 56 percent

• Driving, 46 percent

• Mobile phone, 42 percent

• Cable TV, 27 percent

• Going out to eat, 11 percent

Some workers are making ends meet by dipping into their long-term savings. More than one-in-five (21 percent) workers say they have reduced their 401(k) contributions and/or personal savings in the last year to get by.  Others aren't contributing to long-term savings at all, as one-third (34 percent) state that they do not participate in any programs such as 401(k), IRAs or retirement plans. Nearly two-in-ten workers making six figures have reduced their contributions to savings and 401(k) programs each month (17%) and 9 percent don't participate in a 401(k) program or other personal savings plan.

Haefner offers the following tips for riding out the economic downturn and preparing for the future:

Look at your expenses under a microscope -- Takeout coffee, restaurant lunches and other common everyday expenses can make a dent in your checking account. Create a spreadsheet to analyze what you spend each month, and once you can see where your money goes, you can more easily see where you can cut back.

Put an amount away, even if it is small -- Regardless of the amount, set aside money each month for your short and long-term savings. If you have trouble remembering or fitting savings into your budget, try setting up an automatic deposit into a savings account.

Savings may be right under your nose -- Talk to your HR department about how you can make the most of the benefits at your organization. Find out if your company offers discounts to stores or for other services, and ask about how you can make sure you've selected the right benefits plans for your budget.

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