A telephone survey of just over 1,000 American conducted by Bankrate.com shows that there exists a tremendous savings gap in the country.

Savings Account save

“We’ve been asking this question for four years in a row,” Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride told DailyFinance. “What we’ve seen is a stunning lack of progress on the part of American households in accumulating emergency savings.

Savings: Systemic problems

“There is a great deal of uncertainty and discomfort on the part of consumers with the savings they have accumulated,” he said. However, “People are hemmed in by high expenses and stagnant incomes.”

Without judgement, it’s difficult to save money when mired in debt and unable to step back to see one’s financial position from “10,000 feet,” a strong economy, however, requires that its participants build themselves a safety net of their own making.

26% percent of Americans have no savings to speak of if an emergency were to befall them. 40% are not equipped to deal with an emergency or deal with three months of expenses. This is down from 45% just a year ago and is indicative of a larger problem. Sudden illnesses occur, but a staggering percentage of the population hopes that it won’t happen to them rather than preparing for a distinct possibility.

“Savings hasn’t always been a very high priority among American consumers,” said McBride. “It’s … ongoing stuff: the dinners out, the $5 cup of coffee on the way to work every morning, the latest and greatest iPhone.”

That, in a less judgmental way, is not the answer.

Despite having a “front row seat for this recessing and ensuing anemic recovery,” behaviors haven’t changed.

In a rare show of bipartisan support, two legislators have reached across the aisle to offer a “lottery” to encourage savings.

The proposed bill

This savings crisis affects individuals, families and the entire American economy. It is one of the reasons we support the American Savings Promotion Act. This bipartisan legislation updates a broadly-written banking laws to allow banks and thrifts the ability to offer prizes for customers who make a deposit in their savings account. These prize-linked savings (PLS) accounts are an innovative tool to encourage saving while offering the thrill of a chance to win a larger prize. PLS programs have proven successful both abroad and in states that allow credit unions to offer these products.

More than a half dozen states have changed applicable state laws to allow credit unions to offer prize-linked savings accounts. In 2009, Save to Win, the first large-scale PLS program, was launched at a handful of credit unions in Michigan. Each time a participant deposits $25 in their savings account, they are entered into a raffle with a chance to win a monthly prize of up to $3,750 or an annual prize of $10,000. Early data from the program shows that this incentive has been successful at encouraging first-time savers and low-to-moderate income savers. The program has since expanded to Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington. In addition, state lawmakers in Indiana approved legislation this session to allow PLS products. Since 2009, over 50,000 account holders have collectively saved more than $94 million. Unfortunately, current federal barriers prevent banks and thrifts from offering these proven PLS products. The American Savings Promotion Act would update federal law to allow states to expand prize-linked savings to other financial institutions. This legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress and enjoys bipartisan support from across the political spectrum.

That was recently penned by Junior Senator Jerry Moran from the state of Kansas and Rep. Tom Cotton from Arkansas.

Savings is the backbone of a strong economy and without a strong savings rate the largest economy in the world is largely spineless.