2022: The Year in Numbers

The 10 Most Important Numbers in Personal Finance News in 2022

An illustration shows a handful of cash aflame, a house, a stack of tax filing papers, and a couple of dollar bills.
Photo:

The Balance / Alice Morgan

A number is just a number, unless it reveals a truth or tells a story.

Whether it was the rise of inflation, rebalancing of home prices, setbacks for the stock market, or the downfall of cryptocurrency, a few stark numbers spoke volumes about the economy and personal finance during the year. 

Here are 10 of the most important figures that together tell the story of how our financial lives changed in 2022.

1.9

That’s how many job openings there were per unemployed person in March, highlighting how workers gained the upper hand as the economy reopened and recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. Booming business combined with a persistent labor shortage meant high demand for employees to do all the work.

There have been about two jobs per job-seeker ever since this spring. That is remarkable, because over the two decades the government has kept track of the figure, it’s typically been the other way around, with more than one worker competing for every opening.

$0

High demand for workers has meant pay raises not seen in years. Unfortunately for your bottom line, inflation had eaten away the buying power of those raises by March. On average, workers’ pay was $0 more than it was in March 2020, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

It’s only gotten worse since then. As of October, the average hourly wage had risen to $32.58, from $28.79 at the pandemic’s onset, a 13.1% boost. That was outpaced by the 15.4% rise in the consumer price index, a measure of inflation, over the same period, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

$333

That’s how much larger the average income tax refund was in April 2022 compared to the previous year.

 This jump in refund amounts showed the impact of expanded tax credits that the government had passed the year before, when the pandemic was raging and households were in need of support. The larger tax refunds—11.5% more than the ones given out in 2021—highlighted just how much extra support people got from the government through the pandemic. 

Programs such as expanded child tax credit, stimulus checks, and boosted unemployment benefits reduced child hunger and poverty and helped many households stay afloat amid the pandemic’s financial upheavals. But critics say the influx of cash helped spur the inflation that has surged in 2022.

3.7 Million

That’s how many children lived in households that fell below the poverty line in January, after the monthly payments from the expanded child tax credit ended at the end of 2021. It was a 4.9 percentage point jump in child poverty in just one month.

The unprecedented child tax credit expansion had transformed the program from a middle-class tax break worth up to $2,000 per child during tax season to a $300 per child payment to households every month that maxed out at $3,600

For the first time, this credit also went to households that didn’t earn enough money to claim it, even ones that had no income at all. The extra cash was delivered directly to households, with few strings attached, and lifted millions of children out of poverty, according to research by the Census Bureau.

President Joe Biden’s efforts to extend the credit at least through 2025 ran aground in the narrowly divided Senate, and the clock ran out for the credit in December 2021. 

14 Months

That’s how long “excess savings” from the pandemic were likely to last, as inflation forced people to dip into their reserves. Economists at Wells Fargo securities estimated that number in September, and the trend has been building throughout the year. 

With the necessities of life costing more, and extra financial help from the government mostly gone, many people are dipping into their savings or racking up credit card debt to keep up their spending habits

$3.5 billion

That’s how much consumers were likely to save at the bank each year after pressure from regulators pushed financial institutions to curtail overdraft fees, according to an analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts in February. 

With money getting tighter, many bank customers were probably grateful for the great overdraft fee pullback, which began in late 2021 and continued into this year. 

JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, and other major banks announced changes to reduce or eliminate the fees they charged customers for overdrawing their accounts. 

Banks began to cut back overdraft fees—often $35 a pop—after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other regulators began to investigate the highly profitable practice, which disproportionately impacted low-income customers. 

8

That’s how many times the student loan payment pause has been extended

Unlike other pandemic relief measures, the halt on interest and required payments on federally-held student loans never sunset. The pause began in 2020 and there’s no firm end date in sight–it has been extended again and again through two presidential administrations. 

In 2022, federal student loans were in a state of suspended animation, and the limbo for borrowers goes on.

The most recent extension of the pause, announced in November, is tied to the fate of President Biden’s student debt forgiveness program. The forgiveness plan would wipe out up to $10,000 from the balances of eligible federal student loan borrowers, or $20,000 for those who went to college on Pell grants. 

Forgiveness is currently on hold while court cases against the program are resolved. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in February. As it stands, payments will resume two months after either the program is allowed to proceed, the cases are resolved, or June 30, whichever comes first. 

$30,000

That’s how much equity homeowners had lost as of September because of home prices falling from the peak they hit during the pandemic era. The average amount of equity held by homeowners was $301,000 as of September, down from $331,000 at the peak in May, mortgage data analytics firm Black Knight calculated.

Skyrocketing mortgage rates, which hit two-decade highs in November, have thrown cold water on a hot housing market that had seen prices shoot up 42% since the pandemic’s onset.  Decreasing home equity is just one symptom of that trend. Another telling figure: the average mortgage payment on a newly-purchased home was $2,012 in October, up $629 from the beginning of the year, a 45.5% increase, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

That staggering decline in affordability has forced many would-be buyers out of the market, smothering sales and hurting prices. Some housing economists predict only a modest decrease in prices, while others see a crash coming

$7,270

That’s how much a $10,000 investment in Bitcoin would have been worth as of May, if the blitz  of cryptocurrency-related ads during the Super Bowl had convinced you to dive into the digital currency market. 

The misery of crypto holders only got worse from there.

In November, FTX, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world, collapsed and declared bankruptcy, leading to renewed calls by government officials to create customer protections for the “wild west” of cryptocurrency. Indeed, 2022 has been an overall terrible year for bitcoin, ethereum, and other digital assets. That $10,000 worth of Super Bowl bitcoins, as of early December, would only be worth $4,031.

2011

That was the last time, before this year, that the S&P 500 benchmark stock index had fallen five weeks in a row. The stock market’s winning streak—its longest since 1928—officially came to an end in May, and it has yet to return to the peak it hit at the beginning of the year. As of Dec. 6, the S&P was still 17.95% down from its Jan. 3 level. 

Stocks have generally fallen this year for one major reason: the Federal Reserve’s war on inflation. The Fed has ratcheted up its benchmark interest rate in hopes of slowing the economy enough to control inflation, a move that generally hurts business and stock values. 

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Diccon at dhyatt@thebalance.com.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED. “Job Openings per Unemployed Worker.”

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED. "Average Hourly Earnings of All Employees."

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED. "Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers."

  4. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. “New Data Show That the Child Tax Credit Fueled a Substantial Reduction in Child Poverty.”

  5. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. “Fiscal Policy and Excess Inflation During Covid-19: a Cross-Country View.”

  6. Treasury Department. “Child Tax Credit.”

  7. Wells Fargo. "Consumer Staying Power by Income Group: Examining the Stock of Excess Savings by Income Quartile."

  8. Pew Charitable Trusts. “America’s Largest Banks Make Major Overdraft Changes That Will Help Consumers.”

  9. Congressional Research Service. “The Biden Administration Extends the Pause on Federal Student Loan Payments: Legal Considerations for Congress.”

  10. Education Department. “Biden-Harris Administration Continues Fight for Student Debt Relief for Millions of Borrowers, Extends Student Loan Repayment Pause.”

  11. Black Knight. “Black Knight: Mortgage Holders Lose $1.3 Trillion in Equity in Q3 as Price Correction Continues; Nationally, Homes Shed 2.6% of Value Over Past Three Months.”

  12. Sen. Ron Wyden. “Wyden Questions Crypto Exchanges on Consumer Protections Following Failure of FTX.”

  13. First Trust. “This Rally Shouldn’t Last.”

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