I am genuinely wondering what mechanisms are creating this dichotomy.
Is it that we as Americans are ready to admit that we have it pretty good? Standard of living typically takes into account housing, food, a few fun items, and general feelings of well-being. Needs are met. Yet that peace can be rather fragile.
To me, savings appears to be the best explanation.
Maybe it is that we spend so much of our incomes to maintain the lifestyle with which we are so satisfied that we lack the forethought or the liquidity to save for a rainy day or cover unexpected expenses.
Perhaps governments can do a better job at encouraging savings for short-term interests rather than simply for retirement. We already force long-run savings via Social Security.