Thursday, December 14, 2006

Global Warming?

Percentage of Americans who think home air conditioning
is a necessity, not a luxury they could do without:

1996: 51%
2006: 70%

Source: Pew Research Center

Monday, December 11, 2006

Demographic Trend of the Year Award

Move over Academy Awards, Grammies, Emmys, Tony Awards, Nobel Prizes, and Time Magazine Man of the Year. Make room for the Demographic Trend of the Year Award, given in recognition of the demographic trend that has caused the most consternation during the past twelve months (proving once and for all that demography is not dull). Not wanting to keep anyone in suspense, we are announcing herewith the winner of the 2006 award: The Hispanic Population.

The Hispanic Population consists of the 43 million residents of the United States whose country of birth or ancestry is one of the Spanish-speaking nations of the world. The Hispanic Population has official Washington in a fence-building furor, and its impact on Lou Dobbs's ratings has been nothing short of phenomenal. The relatively traditional lifestyle of Hispanics is confusing the pundits and has set off another round of debate about whether women are returning to the home. Even small town America is jumping into the fray, sparring with the constitution by enacting laws that make life even more difficult for undocumented immigrants—most of whom are Hispanic.

The Hispanic Population wins the Demographic Trend of the Year Award after sweeping all five Demographic Melodrama categories. Here is a run-down of the results:

1. Fastest Growing Demographic Segment
Between 2000 and 2005, The Hispanic Population grew by an enormous 21 percent. At the same time, the number of non-Hispanic whites increased by a miniscule 1 percent.

2. Demographic Segment Getting the Biggest Bang for the Buck
The Hispanic Population accounts for only 14 percent of the total U.S. population. Because of its strategic location, however, its influence is far greater than a 14 percent share. In California and Texas, the two most-populous states, Hispanics are fully 35 percent of the population, which amplifies their influence.

3. Demographic Segment with the Greatest Reach
The age structure of The Hispanic Population makes it a powerhouse in the all-important youth market. The median age of The Hispanic Population is just 27 compared with a median age of 40 for non-Hispanic whites. Because of their relative youth, Hispanics account for a disproportionate share of newborns (nearly one in four), public elementary schoolchildren (one in five), and workers in many entry-level jobs. Thirty-eight percent of the nation's construction laborers are Hispanic.

4. Demographic Segment Confusing the Most Pundits
The talking heads who yearn for a return to the traditional family are touting signs of its comeback, but they are being fooled by the statistical impact of The Hispanic Population on the nation's demographic trends. Example: Between 2000 and 2005, the number of newborns who were third- or higher-order births increased by more than 50,000. Hispanics, with their large families, account for the entire increase. Similarly, the small decline in the labor force participation rate of young women over the past few years does not herald a return of the stay-at-home mom but is a consequence of the relatively low labor force participation rate of Hispanic women. Among women aged 20 to 24, only 63 percent of Hispanics work compared with 72 percent of non-Hispanic whites. As Hispanics constitute an ever-growing share of young adults, the labor force participation rate of young women is slipping.

5. Demographic Segment Enraging the Most Politicians
Yes, the political battle is over immigrants, not The Hispanic Population. But with Hispanics accounting for 51 percent of immigrants and an even larger share of the undocumented, they have become the political target du jour. The consequence is not just fence building along our border with Mexico, but an effort to make English the official language (Arizona became the 28th state to do so in the November election), federally mandated limits on Medicaid coverage for newborns (who are automatically U.S. citizens) until their immigrant parents file an application to "prove" their child's citizenship status, and laws enacted by communities across the country to penalize landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants or employers who hire them.

After sweeping all five Demographic Melodrama categories, The Hispanic Population is the hands-down winner of The Demographic Trend of the Year Award. For all the 2006 runners-up—The Gays, The Single Mothers, Boomers Who Refuse to Save for Retirement, and Young Adults Who Spend Too Much Time Texting Their Friends, mark your calendar for the 2007 awards competition, and better luck next time.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Know Your Data

Back in the old days, when I was just a kid pretending to be a demographer (the fire ant Census was particularly difficult, by the way), the Census Bureau issued its data in an old-fashioned but remarkably useful medium known as paper. This meant page after page of eyesight-challenging numbers. At the time it seemed like a huge amount of data. How naive we were!

But paper, youngsters, is a more limiting medium than cyberspace. The data released by the Census Bureau had to fit into the paper volumes they published and mailed out to eager data miners. These limitations still shape much of what the Census Bureau publishes on the Internet, since users often want to be able to see trends over time, and maintaining the same data sets (and presentation formats) makes it easier to do this.

But some data, such as population statistics, is now available in basically raw form. This means that rather than five-year age groups, you can get monthly population estimates by single year of age. This provides data users with the opportunity to create their own age groups, such as 18-to-49 year olds, but it also means that if you want five-year age groups, you will have to add them up yourself. (Or—shameless plug alert—get them from New Strategist Publications. Motto: “Be Glad We Can Add.”)

As the amount and level of data detail swells, it also becomes a bit trickier to navigate through all the different data sets and sources. You might not know, for example, that a particular data set on the Census website was discontinued years ago and is now obsolete. (Household projections.) Or you might be confused about which set of population estimates to use since they are now available monthly.(Use the July 1 estimates.)

As yet another service to all eight of our loyal readers, we are instituting a new feature: Know Your Data. This series will answer your burning questions (ACS or CPS??) as well as questions you never thought to ask (Who created the original poverty threshold?). Feel free to email questions you would like us to address. And stay tuned for our first fact-filled offering in the series, appearing on this blog just as soon as the boss stops looking over this way.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of U.S. households with no
adults who speak fluent English: 3

Source: Census Bureau

Monday, November 20, 2006

TV's "Coveted" Demographic

For the life of me, I will never understand why television advertisers are so fixated on the 18-to-49 demographic. This morning, as I perused various online news sources, I came across an article on MSNBC headlined Baby boomers upset TV isn't all about them.

Although the headline suggests this is just more whining from spoiled Boomers, it is clear from the article that the television industry (and I would argue the entertainment industry in general) suffers from myopia when it comes to "older" viewers. Advertisers are charged higher rates for television programming that attracts viewers under age 50, and in particular those under age 40. This means that when Boomers get home from a hard day at the office, turning on the television may not be the relaxing experience they desire. Rather, it may be an exercise in frustration as they wade through program after program aimed at a much younger audience.

The theory seems to be that capturing young adults as customers will create a cadre of loyal buyers for life. But this is ridiculous in the 21st century when "brand loyalty" is an oxymoron. Rather, marketers need to look at who has the inclination and the bucks to buy their products. More often than not, this means the 40-plus age group. Not that I really expect the entertainment industry to suddenly change its focus. But eventually, advertisers may change their minds for them as they become more conscious of the need to appeal to older customers.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Smack Dab in the Middle

If you draw two lines—one running North-South, the other East-West—so that each divides the population in half, the point of intersection is known as the "median center," or put more plainly, Smack Dab in the Middle. Located in what East and West Coasters like to call Fly-Over Country, the precise location of Smack Dab has been shifting since the nation's early days when most folks lived east of the Mississippi River. For a long time it was located in Ohio, but since 1950 it has moved steadily southwest. As of the last Census in 2000, Smack Dab had relocated to Daviess County, Indiana.

Curious about the real Smack Dab, I googled Daviess County, Indiana. It might be the center of the U.S. in a very strict sense, but it seems it could hardly be further from the center of U.S. culture. This is Amish Country. Its Visitor's Bureau promotes a tour of an Amish Village and a visit to the Black Buggy Amish Restaurant and Bakery. You can shop at country stores and take home a handsewn quilt.

While this gives you a quite charming picture of the of nation's median center, if you are seeking more prosaic enlightenment, you will want to turn to the Census Bureau, a treasure trove (or impenetrable jungle, depending on your viewpoint) of information. There is a QuickFacts site, for example, where you get a U.S. map, ripe for the clicking. Click on Indiana and up pops an informative data table. If you need information on a more specific location within Indiana, there are buttons at the top of the page that allow you to select a specific city or county. The Daviess County data table doesn't tell you that it is “Amish Country,” but it does reveal that there are 30,466 inhabitants residing in 10,894 households. More than two-thirds own their homes and the county's median household income is $35,967. The table includes statistics for all of Indiana for comparison.

Or you could just turn to Wikipedia, where you would discover that in April 2006 Daviess County switched time-zone allegiance. But then, it does seem more fitting that the center of the U.S. population would set its clocks to Central Time rather than Eastern Time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Generation Gap

Median age of the U.S. population by race and Hispanic origin:
(the median is the age at which half are older and half are younger)

White non-Hispanic 40.4
Asian 35.1
Black 31.3
Hispanic 27.2

Source: Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rankings: Born in State

Take a guess: Among the 50 states, which one ranks first in the proportion of (native-born) residents who were born in the state? The surprising answer is New York. According to the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey rankings, 82.3 percent of New York's residents were born in-state. Other states with populations staying close to home are Louisiana (82.0 percent), Michigan (80.5 percent), Pennsylvania (80.1 percent), and Ohio (77.9 percent).

The national average is 67.5 percent. In other words, two-thirds of Americans born in the United States live in the state in which they were born. The state with the fewest residents born in-state is Nevada, with only 26 percent of residents born there. Also close to the bottom are Florida (40.9 percent), Arizona (41.1 percent), Alaska (42.7 percent), and Wyoming (43.1 percent).

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of people aged 18 to 65 who have not been to a doctor or other health care professional in the past year, by health insurance status:

With health insurance: 15 percent
Without health insurance: 46 percent

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2005

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Feeling Worse

Why don't Americans feel as good as they once did? The percentage of adults aged 18 or older who say they are in "excellent" or "very good" health fell from 59 to 54 percent between 1995 and 2005, according to the government's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The aging of the population explains some of the decline, since older Americans are less likely to report being in tip-top shape. But an examination of the data by age group reveals young adults to be the ones with the biggest decline in health status. The percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds who say they are in excellent or very good health fell by nearly 8 percentage points between 1995 and 2005—from 70 to 62 percent. In contrast, among people aged 65 or older, the percentage reporting excellent or very good health fell by less than 1 percentage point, declining from 37.2 to 36.5 percent during those years.

Every demographic segment was less likely to report being in excellent or very good health in 2005 than in 1995, but some recorded bigger declines than others. By race and Hispanic origin, Hispanics experienced the sharpest drop in health status—down an eyebrow raising 17 percentage points. By income group, those in the middle saw the biggest decline in health status. The percentage reporting excellent or very good health fell by 11 to 12 percentage points for those with household incomes ranging from $15,000 to $49,999. By education, high school graduates and those with only some college experienced a larger decline in health status than those without a high school diploma or a college degree.

One possible explanation for our worsening health status is the decline in health insurance coverage. The groups experiencing the biggest losses in health insurance coverage are also the groups with the biggest declines in health status. The percentage of people aged 25 to 34 without health insurance grew from 23 to 26 percent between 1995 and 2005—the biggest increase among age groups, according to the Census Bureau. This is also the age group reporting the biggest decline in health status. The only age group with universal health insurance coverage—people aged 65 or older—experienced the smallest change in health status during those years. Likewise Hispanics, the group most likely to be without health insurance, saw the biggest decline in health status. Middle-income groups—with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid (the government's health insurance program for the poor) and too poor to afford employer-provided or private health insurance—also experienced the biggest declines in self-reported health status.

If the lack of health insurance is behind Americans' growing unease about their health, then we're likely to feel even worse in the years ahead as health insurance costs climb and coverage falls.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of children in 4th through 8th grade who take part in organized activities (not including after-school programs) by family income level:

incomes below poverty level: 30 percent
incomes 200% or more above poverty level: 66 percent

Source: America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Married Couples a Minority

The New York Times reports today that married couples are now a minority of households. The Times' analysis of the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey (ACS) shows that married couples account for 49.7 percent of households, down from 51.7 percent in 2000. The Census Bureau's other trend-tracking survey still puts married couples in the majority, however. The 2006 Current Population Survey (CPS), taken in March, estimates that married couples accounted for 50.9 percent of households. The difference in the two figures is most likely due to the inherent variation in estimates based on population samples.

It does not matter whether married couples are a slight majority or a bare minority of households. The fact is, living arrangements in the U.S. are very different from what they once were and will change even more as the baby-boom generation ages into the empty-nest years and beyond. Here's how living arrangements rank today, from most to least popular according to both surveys:

1. Married couples without children under age 18 living at home (most are empty-nesters)
ACS 28.0%
CPS 27.1%

2. People living alone (most are women and many are widowed)
ACS 27.1%
CPS 26.6%

3. Married couples with children under age 18 at home
ACS 21.7%
CPS 23.8%

4. Female-headed families (about two-thirds include children)
ACS 12.6%
CPS 12.3%

5. People living with nonrelatives (many are cohabiting couples)
ACS 6.0%
CPS 5.7%

6. Male-headed families (only half include children)
ACS 4.6%
CPS 4.5%

As boomers age and many become widowed, living alone is destined to become the most common lifestyle in the U.S.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of homeowners with no public transportation available in their area: 50 percent.

Source: Bureau of the Census, 2005 American Housing Survey

Friday, October 06, 2006

How Many Illegals are in the U.S.?

According to a government report, 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the U.S. in 2005, up from 8.5 million in 2000—a 24 percent increase. Fifty-seven percent are from Mexico, followed by much smaller numbers from El Salvador (4 percent), Guatemala (4 percent), India (3 percent), China (2 percent), and other countries.

These figures come from the Department of Homeland Security. They were calculated using the "residual method" of population estimation. Researchers in the Office of Immigration Statistics subtracted the number of legal foreign-born residents (based on administrative data at the Department of Homeland Security) from the total number of foreign-born (based on estimates from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey), and the difference—or residual—is the number of illegals in the U.S.

The number of unauthorized immigrants is growing by 408,000 per year, according to the report.

Not surprisingly, California is home to the largest number of unauthorized immigrants—2.8 million or 26 percent of the total in 2005. Other states in the top five are Texas (1.4 million), Florida (850,000), New York (560,000), and Illinois (520,000). But the number of illegals is growing the fastest in Georgia, where it has more than doubled between 2000 and 2005—climbing from 220,000 to 470,000 between 2000 and 2005.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percent moving between 2004 and 2005...
All ages: 14 percent
Aged 20 to 24: 30 percent
Aged 62 to 64: 6 percent

Percent moving out of state...
All ages: 19 percent
Aged 20 to 24: 16 percent
Aged 62 to 64: 34 percent

Source: Census Bureau, Geographic Mobility: 2004 to 2005

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

If Cell Phones Could Talk

Eighty-two percent of Americans say they have been annoyed by the cell phone use of others in public places, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But for demographers and others who love to track the trends, cell phones are more than an annoyance. They are an astonishing technological marvel that has revealed one of our deepest needs.

Before the cell phone, who knew Homo sapiens wanted to talk so much? Our prehistoric ancestors might have known, since they were the last to be within shouting distance of everyone they knew almost all the time. The African savannahs might have been humming with conversation as ancient humans discussed the latest hunt and gather. Then, as our species populated and migrated to distant lands without any means of communication with those left behind, we were forced to repress our need to stay in touch. Perhaps out of this melancholy longing art was born. We told stories, wrote ballads and poems, and drew pictures to mourn our loss of communication with loved ones far away. Finally, we invented the snail mail system to maintain some vestige of contact, however inadequate.

It has been thousands of years since we could strike up a conversation at will with any friend or family member. Only in the past ten years, as cell phones proliferated and the cost of using them dropped to pennies in our pocket, have we rediscovered our addiction to continuous communication with those we care about.

The cell phone's evolution over the past decade, from clunky and expensive accessory to sleek and cheap necessity, has revealed talk to be one of our most powerful urges. What we say is far less interesting than the act of saying it, all the time: "Where are you?" "What are you doing?" "Where should we meet?" "How about this for a plan?"

The cell phone's overarching importance is revealed not just by anecdotes, but in the spending statistics collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its annual Consumer Expenditure Survey. In the past decade, the cell phone's significance has grown more than any other household item. In 1997, only 10 percent of households spent on cell phone service. In that year, in a ranking of items on which the average household spends the most, cell phone service was lost in the crowd at 112th place. In 2004 (the latest data available), 46 percent of households spent on cell phone service, boosting it to a lofty 28th place. Cell phone service now ranks higher in our spending priorities than prescription drugs and is not far below cable TV and alcoholic beverages.

Interestingly, while 82 percent of the public has gotten annoyed with someone else's cell phone use, only 8 percent of cell phone users say they have annoyed others with their cell phone calls. They must have been too busy talking to notice.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Does Religion Influence Sexual Behavior?

Does religious belief influence sexual attitudes and behavior? Most would call the question a no brainer--of course it does! But human nature being what it is, religious belief has less influence on behavior than on attitudes.

This becomes clear in an examination of the National Survey of Family Growth, a survey taken every few years by the National Center for Health Statistics. The NSFG probes the attitudes and behavior of a representative sample of Americans aged 15 to 44 toward sexuality and reproduction. An examination of the results suggests that religious belief affects the talk much more than the walk.

Religious belief shapes attitudes toward premarital sex:
The percentage of women who think it is all right for unmarried 18-year-olds to have sexual relations if they have strong affection for one another ranges from a high of 74 percent among women with no religion to a low of 29 percent for fundamentalist Protestant women. Among Catholic women, the 54 percent majority thinks premarital sex is OK.

But it delays first sexual intercourse by only a few months:
Among women aged 15 to 44 with no religion, average age at first sexual intercourse was 16.4 years. Fundamentalist Protestants held off for several more months, with an average age of 16.9 years at first sexual intercourse. Catholics just said no for nearly one year longer, with an average age at first sexual intercourse of 17.7 years.

And it has little impact on "saving oneself" for marriage:
Among women with no religion, only 12 percent waited until marriage before having sex. The proportion was a slightly higher 15 percent among Catholics and 17 percent among fundamentalist Protestants.

Religious belief drives attitudes toward out-of-wedlock childbearing:
Among women with no religion, fully 86 percent think it is OK for an unmarried woman to have a child. A 49 percent minority of fundamentalist Protestants agree. (Among fundamentalist Protestant men, the figure is an even smaller 37 percent.). A surprisingly large 72 percent of Catholic women think out-of-wedlock childbearing is OK.

But it has almost no effect on out-of-wedlock childbearing itself:
Among women aged 15 to 44 with children, the percentage who have ever had a child out-of-wedlock is similar regardless of religion. Among women with no religion, 49 percent have had a child out of wedlock. The proportion is 47 percent among fundamentalist Protestants and a slightly smaller 40 percent among Catholics.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Households with two or more earners, by household income quintile:

lowest quintile (with incomes below $19,178): 5 percent
highest quintile (with incomes above $91,705): 76 percent

Source: Census Bureau, 2005 Annual Social and Economic Supplement

Monday, September 11, 2006

Comparing Crime

Recently, the FBI released preliminary numbers from its 2005 Uniform Crime Reporting Program. According to the findings, violent crime in the U.S. rose 2.5 percent between 2004 and 2005. The complete report will be released later this year, entitled Crime in the United States, with tables of data on crimes reported to nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the nation. But don't plan on using the report to determine how your local area ranks in the crime statistics. Those who want to compare one area with another are on their own.

The FBI makes no secret of the fact that they do not want users to compare crime rates. They even write extensively about the difficulty of doing so on their web site:

"Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities—news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our Nation—use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents"

But you have to wonder whether this high-mindedness is more political than methodological. After all, if the FBI provided rankings of states and local areas by crime rate, then those 17,000 law enforcement agencies might not be so cooperative about sending their data to the FBI. And more than 400 congressional representatives, 100 senators, and countless local politicians would be very unhappy if their area appeared at the top of a high-crime list.

Unless an intrepid reporter burrows into the numbers by downloading, multiplying, dividing, and sorting, the average American is left pretty much in the dark about relative crime rates in the U.S. Everyone knows the central cities of metropolitan areas have high crime rates, but what about college towns, vacation spots, and retirement areas? The federal government makes it hard to find out.

Recently, crime seems to have surged in my town, Beaufort, South Carolina—a military base and resort area on the coast. Letters in the local newspaper have expressed shock at the crime, wondering what is happening to our once safe community. But how safe is Beaufort, relatively speaking? I wanted to find out. Because the 2005 data are not yet available, I went to the FBI's 2004 report, finding a table listing crime rates by region and state. I was not surprised to see the South having the highest rate of violent crime—this is a well documented fact. By region, the violent crime rate per 100,000 population looks like this:

U.S. average 465.5
South 540.6
West 480.7
Midwest 391.1
Northeast 390.7

Next, I spent about 15 minutes sorting the 50 states by their violent crime rate. To my surprise, supposedly sleepy South Carolina came out on top, with 784.2 violent crimes per 100,000 population in 2004. The violent crime rate in South Carolina exceeds the rate in every other state, including those with high-crime reputations such as Florida (711.3), Nevada (615.9), Texas (540.5), and New York (441.6).

But what about Beaufort? Another table has the data, listing each city's population and the number of violent crimes reported in 2004. The rate has to be calculated, then the list sorted. Lo and behold, Beaufort's violent crime rate of 1,660.3 places it 7th out of 33 cities in the state with populations of 10,000 or more. Beaufort, in fact, has a higher crime rate than the central cities of the state's largest metropolitan areas—Columbia and Charleston. Beaufort has a lower crime rate, however, than the state's other resort area, Myrtle Beach.

While it is understandable that local businesses and politicians may not want these facts to be released, keeping residents in the dark about their chances of experiencing violent crime is a disservice to the community. That kind of naiveté not only increases risk taking, but also adds more victims to the crime rolls.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Problems and Who Has Them

Every now and then someone does a study that tells it like it is. This is the case with "Troubles in America: A Study of Negative Life Events Across Time and Sub-groups," by Tom Smith, Director of the General Social Survey of the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. The study, prepared for the Russell Sage Foundation, is also mentioned in the post below and could be the subject of dozens of posts examining its many findings.

In both the 1991 and 2004 GSS surveys, a representative sample of Americans was asked whether they had experienced any of 66 problems during the past year. The incidence of problems alone is worth pondering. Here is a look at the some of the troubles and the percentage of Americans experiencing them in the past 12 months, based on the 2004 survey:

Sick enough to go to a doctor: 56.2
Death of a close friend: 22.0
Lacking health insurance coverage: 17.9
Major home repairs: 15.4
Being unemployed for as long as a month: 14.5
A major worsening of one's financial condition: 13.1
Not having a car for at least one month: 8.3
Undergoing counseling for emotional problems: 7.4
A cut in pay: 6.8
Having serious trouble with a child: 6.3
Being discriminated against: 4.7
Death of a parent: 3.1
Getting divorced: 2.7
Home destroyed or damaged by fire, flood, etc.: 2.0

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Decade of Retreat

If the 1990s is known as the Decade of Affluence because household incomes reached a peak, then these years may well be called the Decade of Retreat—especially for the American worker. Hardly a day goes by without more evidence of workers falling behind.

The Current Population Survey data, released yesterday, show a signficant decline in the earnings of men and women who work full-time (see post below). Wages and salaries now account for a smaller share of the gross domestic product than at any time since 1947, according to an analysis by the New York Times. Not only are wages falling, but the percentage of Americans with employment-based health insurance is slipping, and those with insurance must pay more for it. In fact, the value of employee benefits is failing to keep pace with inflation, according to the Times.

Americans are feeling the pain. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of the public thinks today's workers must work harder to earn a decent living. Fifty-six percent say employers are less loyal to workers. Fifty-one percent think retirement benefits are not as good as they used to be. A comparison of the 2006 Pew results with surveys taken in 1989 and 1997 shows job satisfaction dropping sharply among workers aged 50 or older and growing discontent with employee benefits.

The quality of work life may not be alone in retreat. Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey (GSS) at the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, concludes in a study that "Americans on average are worse-off now than in the past." He came to this conclusion after comparing 2004 with 1991 GSS results. In both years, respondents were asked to identify the frequency and severity with which they encountered 66 different problems ranging from the death of a spouse to the loss of a job and the inability to pay for health insurance. The percentage of Americans experiencing at least one problem increased over the years from 89.1 to 91.5 percent. The average number of problems experienced grew from 4.03 to 4.34. Smith found significant increases in problems such as being unemployed, being pressured to pay bills, being unable to afford food, lacking medical insurance, and being hospitalized.

What factors might explain an erosion in the quality of life in the United States? One might be the aging of the population, which leads to more health problems. Another might be technological change and the consequent globalization of the workforce. The Pew survey shows how ambivalent Americans feel about these changes. Sixty-nine percent think email and other modern communication technologies have helped workers. But an even larger 77 percent think outsourcing—which is one consequence of the communications revolution—has hurt American workers.

Smith's study sheds some light on why things may be turning south, examining the demographic segments with the most and least troubles. The biggest change in the distribution of troubles was by education. In 1991, the lowest-educated group experienced 1.33 problems for every 1 problem experienced by the best-educated group. In 2004, the ratio had grown to 1.79 to 1. The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in an increasingly competitive world may explain the Decade of Retreat.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Here Are the 2005 Numbers

At 10:00 this morning, the Census Bureau unveiled the much anticipated snapshot of our economic wellbeing, the results of the Current Population Survey's Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Taken in March of each year, the supplement asks a large, nationally representative sample of Americans about their economic status in the previous year. Here are the numbers unveiled by the Census Bureau this morning.

Median household income rose 1.1 percent between 2004 and 2005, to $46,326. This is the first significant increase in median household income since 1999, according to the Census Bureau. But the 2005 figure is still well below the level of 2000, and the gains were limited to a few select demographic segments. By age, only householders aged 65 or older saw their median household income rise significantly between 2004 and 2005—up by 2.8 percent. Behind the gain is higher labor participation among the elderly. By income, changes were not significant at the 90 percent confidence interval, but it is interesting to note that all but the highest income quintile lost ground.

Among men working full-time, median earnings fell 1.8 percent between 2004 and 2005, to $41,386 after adjusting for inflation.

Among women working full-time, median earnings fell 1.3 percent between 2004 and 2005, to $31,858 after adjusting for inflation.

The percentage of people without health insurance climbed from 15.6 to 15.9 percent between 2004 and 2005. The number of uninsured grew to 47 million. The percentage of the population covered by employment-based health insurance fell from 59.8 to 59.5 percent.

The percentage of people living in poverty held steady at 12.6 percent in 2005, not significantly different from the 12.7 percent rate of 2004.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Few Are Trapped in the Housing Bubble

The recent downturn in the housing market has everyone ringing the alarm bells in a frenzy of concern. Let's get real. The latest data from the 2005 American Housing Survey show that, in fact, few homeowners will be vulnerable to a pause or even a slip in housing prices. Here are the numbers on who will be hurt.

Homeowners without a fixed-rate mortgage: Of the nation's 46 million homeowners with a mortgage, 9 million (19 percent) do not have a fixed rate of interest. Instead, they have adjustable rate mortgates, balloon mortgages, or some combination. They will be hurt by rising interest rates.

Homeowners with little or no equity in their home: Of the nation's 46 million homeowners with a mortgage, 5 million (12 percent) owe 90 percent or more of the value of their home. They will be hurt by falling prices.

As the housing market finds a new level of stability, it is important to keep in mind that many homeowners (39 percent) have no mortgage at all, most homeowners with mortgages pay a fixed interest rate, and those with mortgages owe only 55 percent of the value of their home—in other words, they have enough equity to weather a substantial price drop.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Who Will Get Hurt by Housing?

Yesterday the National Association of Realtors announced a decline in sales of previously owned homes for the month of July, and today the Census Bureau reports that new home sales also fell last month. Although the declines were expected by analysts, both exceeded predictions, heightening fears of trouble ahead for homeowners and the economy.

Who will be hurt by a downturn in the housing market? One vulnerable group is young adults. The homeownership rate of householders under age 25 has grown faster than that of any other age group over the past five years. In 2005, 26 percent of householders under age 25 owned their home, up from 22 percent in 2000. The homeownership rate of householders aged 25 to 29 ranked second in growth during those years, rising from 38 to 41 percent. Of the 3.3 million new homeowners in the U.S., more than one in five are under age 30.

In years past, these young adults would have been renting apartments and could have benefited from the transition to a buyer's market. But with housing prices rising fast and lenders marketing tempting interest-only loans, many took the plunge. Now they may have a hard time staying afloat.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Back to School

A Census Bureau press release notes the following astonishing facts about the nation's elementary and high school students:

—41 percent are minorities.
—22 percent have at least one foreign-born parent.

Source: Bureau of the Census, Back to School, 2006-2007

Saturday, August 12, 2006

How Much Elbow Room?

Later this year, the U.S. population will top 300 million people. The last time we passed a 100 million mark was in 1967. The United States is a big country, and we have a long way to go before we are as densely populated as most other countries of the world. In 2005, there were 80 people per square mile in the United States, according to the Population Reference Bureau. That's up from 57 people per square mile in 1967.

While it's getting more crowded around here, we still have a lot more elbow room than most other countries. Among the world's 200-plus nations, we rank around the 25th percentile in population density. China, the world's most populous country, has a population density of 353 people per square mile. India fits 869 people into each of its square miles. Japan has even more, with 876. Those countries seem empty in comparison to the most densely populated nation in the world, Bangladesh, with 2,594 people per square mile.

Americans have more space to themselves than do most Europeans. France has 285 people in each of its square miles. Germany is even more tightly packed with 598, and the United Kingdom tops it with 635. Some nations are emptier than we are, including Brazil (56) and Russia (22). The Canadians, with only 8 people per square mile, and the Australians with an even smaller 7, would feel downright claustrophobic in our crowds.

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of households owning dogs: 36
Percentage of households owning cats: 32

Number of dogs per household: 1.6
Number of cats per household: 2.1

Source: American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, 2002, as reported in the Census Bureau's 2006 Statistical Abstract

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Father's Delight

It is sometimes surprising what the government asks Americans to reveal about themselves. And lucky for us demographers, Americans seem willing to tell all. The latest example: A survey taken by the National Center for Education Statistics asks fathers a series of questions to determine how much "delight" they get from their children. And the answer is—a lot.

Called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, the survey's purpose is to test the effects of family, school, community, and individual variables on children's development. Biological fathers living with children born in 2001 were asked about their feelings towards their child, creating indicators of "delight." The results show how involved today's fathers are in child care, both emotionally and physically.

Two-thirds of fathers think it's more fun to get their child something new than to get something for themselves. An equally large percentage of fathers carry pictures of their child with them wherever they go, and 69 percent talk a lot about their child to friends and family. Three out of four fathers always find themselves thinking about their child. Eighty-five percent of fathers think holding and cuddling their child is fun, and 84 percent strongly agree that fatherhood is a highly rewarding experience.

Most fathers strongly agree that they should be as heavily involved as the mother in the care of their child. Seventy-nine percent rate themselves as a "very good" or "better than average" father. Only 2 percent say they have "some trouble" being a father.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percent of adults who read books every day: 32

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Adult Literacy

Thursday, July 20, 2006

How Americans Get to Work

Drive alone: 79 percent
Carpool: 9 percent
Mass transit: 4 percent
Work at home: 3 percent
Walk: 2 percent

Source: 2005 American Housing Survey

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Cost of College

Paying for college is more painful in some states than others. The Census Bureau's State and Metropolitan Area Data Book: 2006 shows just how much it hurts. One year of tuition, room, and board at a four-year public university ranges from a high of $15,109 in New Jersey to a low of $7,494 in Louisiana. In other words, it costs twice as much to go to college in New Jersey as it does in Louisiana. But household incomes are also much higher in New Jersey, reducing the burden on state residents.

Here's a better way to calculate the pain of paying for college—determine what proportion of median household income is required to pay for one year of in-state tuition, room, and board at a four-year public university. Nationally, the figure is 24.6 percent, with median household income at $43,564 in 2003 and one year of college at a public university costing $10,720. In many states the proportion is much higher, with Vermont (33.8 percent), Pennsylvania (33.2 percent), and South Carolina (33.0 percent) the most expensive. In five states, one year of college requires less than 20 percent of household income. Wyoming (19.6 percent), Colorado (19.3 percent), Alaska (19.3 percent), Hawaii (17.2 percent), and Utah (16.8 percent) have the lowest college costs relative to household income.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Food for Thought

Asian American are much less likely than the average American to be overweight—only 31 percent of Asians are overweight, well below the 59 percent majority of all Americans who are overweight.

Here's why Asians may be better able to control their weight. An analysis of household spending published in the Monthly Labor Review reveals the top three items on which Asian households spend the most in the grocery store: fresh vegetables, seafood, and fresh fruit. A nutritionist's dream! In contrast, here are the top three grocery items on which everyone else spends the most: baked products, beef, and dairy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bigger Houses

It's easy to keep up with housing trends if you know where to look. The Census Bureau keeps tabs on new housing and provides lots of historical data as well. Here are some recently released figures for new single-family houses sold in 2005, with comparisons to 1995.

Median square feet
2005: 2,235
1995: 1,880

Percentage with cental air conditioning
2005: 92
1995: 83

Percentage with three or more bathrooms
2005: 25
1995: 14

Percentage with four or more bedrooms
2005: 42
1995: 34

Median sales price
2005: $240,900
1995: $133,900

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Record: Births to Unmarried Women

The number of births to unmarried women climbed to an unprecedented 1,470,189 in 2004, according to a recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics. Of the 4,112,052 births in 2004, fully 35.8 percent were born to unmarried woman. The percentage of babies born to single women has grown steadily for decades. Here's a look at the trend:

Percent of births to unmarried women:
1950: 3.9
1960: 5.3
1970: 10.7
1980: 18.4
1990: 28.0
2000: 33.2
2004: 35.8

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Cool Research Link: Attitudes Online

Want to know how many are against the death penalty for murder, how Americans feel about banning the Bible in public schools, or whether Americans think homosexuals should be allowed to teach at the nation's colleges? Now you can find out by delving into the National Opinion Research Center's highly respected General Social Survey (GSS) online. This survey, fielded every two years, has been collecting attitudinal data since 1972.

Until now, tapping into GSS results has been difficult, limited to academic researchers with the expertise to run statistical programs to unlock the database. To the rescue comes the Computer Assisted Survey Methods Program at the University of California, Berkeley, creating web-based programs for analysis of survey data. Its online application allows you to choose a GSS question and get an answer in table and chart format. You can explore attitudes and how they have changed from as far back as 1972 up to 2004. You can also explore attitudes by demographic segment, including gender, age, race, and political party.

How many Americans are against the death penalty for murder? Thirty-two percent in 2004, up from 21 percent in 1990. Only 36 percent of Americans want to ban the Bible in public schools, but among college graduates the 51 percent majority thinks the Bible should be banned. And 65 percent of Americans think it's OK for homosexuals to teach at the nation's colleges and universities—up from 53 percent thirty years ago.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percent change in U.S. population since 1960: 62
Percent change in U.S. licensed drivers since 1960: 125
Percent change in U.S. passenger vehicles since 1960: 212

Source: Federal Highway Administration

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Are We Eating Ourselves into Disability?

A look at the latest disability statistics reveals a disturbing figure: nearly one in ten Americans has trouble walking or using stairs, according to the new report on disability released by the Census Bureau. A substantial 11 percent of people aged 15 or older have difficulty with these basic physical tasks. Among people aged 25 to 64, who cannot claim age as an excuse for their disability, a still substantial 8 percent—or nearly one in 12—has trouble walking or using stairs.

Difficulties walking and climbing stairs are the most common disabilities, and Americans' growing girth certainly plays a role in turning these basic functions into daily challenges. With apparently no end in sight to the American weight gain, these difficulties are likely to have a growing impact on shopping malls, theme parks, museums, public transportation, and disaster preparedness.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The End of Retirement

"The years 1965–1999 were the closest thing to economic 'golden years' ever seen by this nation for those moving into retirement, and they will likely never be matched again for the bulk of the population unless savings behavior changes radically."

Those chilling words were issued last month by Dallas Salisbury, president of the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute, in support of the PBS Frontline documentary "Can You Afford to Retire?" The documentary examined how prepared baby boomers are for retirement (answer: NOT) as defined benefit pension plans become scarce and savings remain shockingly low for the minority who participate in defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s. If you haven't seen the Frontline show yet, you can watch it online through the PBS website.

The documentary concludes with the ominous warning that the retirement of the baby-boom generation is, in fact, the end of retirement because most boomers will find they cannot retire and maintain any semblance of their middle-class standard of living. Consequently, most will be forced to work to make ends meet. What are the political implications of the impending downward spiral of today's comfortable middle class? What will happen when disability overtakes working boomers in old age? How will younger generations respond to the growing destitution of their aging parents?

Stay tuned, because that appears to be the next installment in the boomer narrative.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

New Orleans Before and After

Most of the time, demographic change occurs at a plodding pace. Some even say demography is dull. But a look at the before and after demographics of the New Orleans metropolitan area is anything but dull. To witness demographic upheaval on this magnitude in the United States is a once in a lifetime opportunity—or at least we hope so.

Following Hurricane Katrina, FEMA designated 117 counties as disaster areas. In a special effort to determine just what happened to the population in those areas, the Census Bureau took its 2005 American Community Survey, fielded each year throughout the U.S., and broke it into two pieces in the 117 disaster counties—the eight months before Katrina (January through August 2005) and the four months following Katrina (September through December 2005). The results of the analysis are available in detail here. Below are some of the more astonishing changes in the New Orleans metropolitan area during 2005.

Population (in the 8 months) before Katrina: 1,190,615
Population (in the 4 months) after Katrina: 723,830
New Orleans lost a stunning 466,785 people, or 39 percent of its population.

Civilian labor force before Katrina: 599,172
Civilian labor force after Katrina: 342,625
New Orleans lost more than a quarter million workers, or 43 percent of its labor force.

People enrolled in school before Katrina: 312,899
People enrolled in school after Katrina: 170,269
The number of students in metropolitan New Orleans plunged 46 percent.

Blacks as a share of the metropolitan area before Katrina: 37 percent
Blacks as a share of the metropolitan area after Katrina: 22 percent
The white share of the population grew from 59 to 73 percent.

Percentage of people living in poverty before Katrina: 16.9 percent
Percentage of people living in poverty after Katrina: 12.7 percent
Median household income climbed from $39,793 to $43,447.

Households with no vehicles available to them before Katrina: 13.6 percent
Households with no vehicles available to them after Katrina: 5.8 percent

P.S. It is impressive that the Census Bureau is collecting this type of information at all. It is remarkable that the bureau is flexible enough to change procedures in midstream and provide us with a database of such historic importance.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of women aged 15 to 44 who were married
before the first time they had sexual intercourse: 11.

Source: National Survey of Family Growth

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What Men Want

Now we know. The latest National Survey of Family Growth asked men, for the first time, about their fertility, contraceptive use, and fatherhood status. The survey, fielded every few years by the National Center for Health Statistics, typically examines in minute detail the sexual behavior and fertility status of American women aged 15 to 44. Now men in the age group are included too, with findings like this:

—Men aged 40 to 44 have fathered 1.9 biological children and 2.4 pregnancies.

—Percentage of men who have had their paternity established for at least one child: 14.

—Percentage of men with children under age 19 who say they are doing a "very good" job as a father: 46.

—On a scale of 1 (very dissatisfied) to 10 (very satisfied), rating fathers who do not live with their children give to visits with their children: 4.6.

—Percentage of fathers who strongly agree that the rewards of being a parent are worth it, despite the cost and the work it takes: 68.

—Among childless men, percentage saying it would bother them at least at little if they never had children: 88.

The complete report can be downloaded here.

Ten Million Need Help, Most Get It

Ten million Americans aged 15 or older not living in nursing homes or other institutions need help from others to live independently, according to a new report on disability from the Census Bureau. Getting around inside the house, eating, dressing, preparing meals, going outside alone, and walking are some of the tasks they cannot do themselves.

Among those needing help, the 63 percent majority get help only from relatives, 20 percent receive help from both relatives and nonrelatives, 15 percent from nonrelatives only, and 2 percent have no helpers. Fully 89 percent of those receiving help pay nothing for the service.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Long Wait for Marriage

If today's young adults postpone sexual intimacy until marriage, they have a long wait. The median age at first marriage among women reached 25.8 years in 2005, according to the latest family and living arrangement data released today by the Census Bureau. That's five years longer than the virtuous women of 1970 had to wait, when the median age at first marriage was just 20.8 years. For men, the median age at first marriage climbed from 23.2 to 27.1 years between 1970 and 2005.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Who Doesn't Speak English?

Fifty million Americans (19 percent of the population aged 5 or older) speak a language other than English at home. While this is a substantial percentage of the population, it is no cause for alarm. Most also speak English "very well," according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Only 8 percent of U.S. residents do not speak English very well.

Among the nation's 31 million residents who speak Spanish at home, the 52 percent majority speak English very well. Among children aged 5 to 17 who speak Spanish at home, fully 71 percent speak English very well.

Least likely to speak English are people aged 65 or older who speak an Asian language at home. Only 26 percent speak English very well.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Among U.S. workers, average travel time to work: 24.7 minutes.

Source: American Community Survey

Friday, May 19, 2006

Q & A: Why the Hysteria over Immigration?

The increasingly shrill discussion about immigration is nothing new. Every decade or so, the public and the politicians engage in a heated debate over immigration and what to do about it. This time around, however, the debate has been joined to an unprecedented degree by immigrants themselves. This is the first flexing of the Hispanic muscle that will increasingly define the United States.

Just in time to inform the immigration debate, the Census Bureau has released mid-decade population estimates, showing the contribution of immigrants to our population growth. Immigration accounted for 42 percent of the increase in the U.S. population between 2000 and 2005 (the other 58 percent was due to natural increase—or births minus deaths). Hispanics are the 51 percent majority of those immigrants. The engine of Hispanic growth is not just immigration, but natural increase as well. All told, Hispanics account for half of the entire increase in the U.S. population since 2000.

As of July 1, 2005, the nation's 43 million Hispanics accounted for 14 percent of the population—not a particularly large figure, but in combination with blacks, Asians, and other minorities the share climbs to a more impressive and potentially powerful 33 percent. This is an important number. When I was in graduate school, I read an essay (by a demographer whose name I no longer recall—if any readers know who this was, please remind me) theorizing that when a group reaches the one-third level in a society, it becomes a political force. At the one-third level, it needs only a relatively small slice of the rest of the population to create its own majority, allowing it to win elections.

Of course the nation's minorities are a long way from adding up to one-third of voters, since many are not citizens and cannot vote. But they can march in the streets, stir up the opposition, and shape public policy.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Boomers Are Losers

The shift from defined-benefit pension plans to defined-contribution retirement accounts over the past few decades has stripped tens of thousands of dollars in pension wealth from baby-boom workers. An article in the March 2006 Monthly Labor Review reveals just how much boomers will lose.

In the article, James H. Moore, Jr., an economist in the Department of Labor, projects how many baby boomers will be covered by pensions and how much pension income they will receive at age 62. The purpose of the article is to explore differences in pension benefits among boomers by demographic characteristic. But reading between the lines, it becomes apparent that the shift over the past two decades from defined-benefit plans (in which employees receive a guaranteed monthly benefit for life) to defined-contribution accounts (in which employees contribute to their own individual account, receiving a lump sum at retirement) will leave boomers with less in retirement.

Among older boomers (born between 1946 and 1950), 31 percent will be covered by a defined-benefit pension plan at age 62, according to the Moore's projections. They will be the lucky ones, receiving an average of $816 per month for life. Twenty-eight percent of the oldest boomers will be covered by a defined-contribution pension plan. Projections show they will have saved an average of $122,753 by age 62. At a 5 percent withdrawal rate, which is often recommended by financial planners, that lump sum will generate only $511 in monthly income. Bottom line: the pension wealth of older boomers with a defined-contribution plan will be 37 percent less than their peers with a defined-benefit plan.

Among younger boomers (born between 1956 and 1960), 29 percent will be covered by a defined-benefit pension plan at age 62. They will receive an average of $732 in monthly pension income for the rest of their lives. A larger 37 percent of younger boomers will have a defined-contribution retirement plan, having saved an average of $131,198 by age 62. That sum will generate only $547 in monthly income for them, or 25 percent less pension wealth than their counterparts with a defined-benefit plan.

The loss of pension wealth will be even greater for less educated boomers, minorities, and women.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Trend Cop: What's Behind the Surprising Growth of the Traditional American Family?

That is the question posed by the cover story in the May 12 issue of Life magazine, now a newspaper insert. Depicted on the cover is a family of three, the Fergusons, just one of a growing number of families, according to the article, with three and even four children.

"There are many theories about why this is happening, all waiting for firm statistical support," says the article. 

But the explanation for the increase in third-and-higher order births is not a mystery. One word explains it: Hispanics. The Garcias, rather than the Fergusons, should have been on the cover of Life magazine.

Now for the statistical support. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of third-order births to Hispanics grew by 32,000. At the same time, the number of third-order births to non-Hispanic whites FELL by 8,000. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of fourth-or-higher order births to Hispanics climbed by 22,000. The number to non-Hispanic whites grew by just 1,000.

"Three is the new two" is the rallying cry for the "new mini-baby boom" says Life magazine. But the evidence shows two is still the norm. The average number of children an American woman will have in her lifetime, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, stands at an even 2.0. Among the Fergusons and other non-Hispanic whites, it is a smaller 1.9. But for the Garcias and other Hispanics, it is a larger 2.8 and an even 3.0 for Hispanics of Mexican origin. Three is the norm for Hispanics, and Hispanics are driving trends in U.S. births. Mystery solved.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of full-time college students who
do not receive any type of financial aid: 24

Source: Education Statistics Quarterly

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gasoline Matters

Anyone who thinks the media are paying too much attention to every penny increase in the price of gasoline should take a refresher on the rank order of household expenditures. According to my analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, the top six household expenditures in 2004 (the latest data available) are:

1. Food ($5,781)
2. Deductions for Social Security ($3,433)
3. Vehicles ($3,397)
4. Mortgage interest ($2,785)
5. Federal income taxes ($1,519)
6. Gasoline ($1,467)

Gasoline ranks a lofty 6th—and that was in 2004 when the average price of a gallon of gasoline was a bargain at $1.85. As of April 2006, a gallon of gasoline cost $2.91, a 57 percent increase since 2004. Ouch.

MAY 3 UPDATE: Those who grub around in government data like I do occasionally find a mistake—like the one I found in the tax payment lines in the detailed spending tables from the 2004 Consumer Expenditure Survey. The BLS has updated the tables, and the new ranking above shows the corrected data.

Why Homeschool? 

More than 1 million children in the United States were being homeschooled in 2003, according to a newly released report by the National Center for Education Statistics. That's 2.2 percent of the nation's children in kindergarten through 12th grade, up from 1.7 percent in 1999.

Those most likely to be homeschooled: children in the South (2.6 percent), non-Hispanic white children (2.7 percent), children in families with three or more children (3.1 percent), and children in two-parent families with only one parent in the labor force (5.6 percent).  

Concern about the school environment—such as safety, drugs, and negative peer pressure—is the number one reason for homeschooling, according to 31 percent of parents. The number two reason, cited by 30 percent, is to provide religious or moral instruction.  

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More Restaurants = More Pounds

The more restaurants per capita in a state, the greater the weight gain of the state's population during the past 25 years, finds a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research ("The Super Size of America: An Economic Estimation of Body Mass Index and Obesity in Adults," by Inas Rashad, Michael Grossman, and Shin-Yi Chou). In fact, 54 percent of the increase in Americans' body mass index between 1976 and 2000 can be explained by the increase in restaurants per capita.

How does this work? Here's a theory: As fast food has become part of the daily diet, and as the number of fast-food restaurants has proliferated, Americans eat out more and they eat more when they eat out. The increasingly fierce competition among restaurants has created an arms race of sorts, boosting portion size. When people eat out more, they also consume more calories. Average daily intake grew from 1,854 calories in 1977-78 to 2002 calories in 1994-96, say the NBER authors.

According to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics ("Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index, United States 1960-2002"), the average woman gained 19 pounds between 1976-80 and 1999-02. The average man gained 17 pounds. But an examination of weight change within cohorts reveals an even more alarming trend. Boomers have put on much more weight than their older counterparts.

Take a look at what happened to boomers. In 1976-80, the average man aged 20 to 29 (born roughly between 1947 and 1956, this cohort includes most of the oldest boomers) weighed 167.9 pounds. By 1999-02, the same man (now aged 43 to 52) weighed 196.0 pounds. During those years, he gained a whopping 28.1 pounds—63 percent more than the average man. This is a much greater weight gain than experienced by older men. Men aged 40 to 49 in 1976-80 (this cohort was born roughly between 1927 and 1936) gained a smaller 11.8 pounds by 1999-02.

For boomer women, the picture is even uglier. Women aged 20 to 29 in 1976-80 gained an average of 32.5 pounds by 1999-02 (when they were aged 43 to 52)—greater than boomer men's weight gain and more than double the weight gain of their older counterparts. Women aged 40 to 49 in 1976-80 gained only 15.9 pounds by 1999-02.

Why have boomers gained so much more weight than older Americans? One factor could be boomer women's greater labor force participation, which resulted in more restaurant meals. And boomers appear to have passed on those eating habits to their children. The average woman in her twenties today weighs 156.5 pounds. That's 21 pounds more than boomer women weighed at their age. The average man in his twenties weighs 183.4 pounds—15.5 pounds more than their boomer counterparts at the same age. If today's young adults gain weight at the same rate as boomers, then the obesity epidemic has only just begun.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Falling Prices

With gas prices heading ever higher, it may ease the pain to know that a handful of items cost less today than they did nearly a decade ago. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates price changes by holding product quality constant. Computers may seem to cost the same amount of money today as they did a decade ago, but you get much more for your money. Holding product quality constant, here is how much prices have fallen for the following items between 1997 and 2006: 

videotape and DVD rentals: -11 percent
ship fares: -29 percent
toys: -29 percent
landline service, long-distance: -33 percent
cell phone service: -35 percent
photographic equipment: -46 percent
personal computers: -89 percent

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Percentage of Americans who are overweight: 65
Percentage of Americans who think they are overweight: 39
Source: Pew Research Center

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

News about Business Owners

It seems to take forever for the Census Bureau to release the data from its Survey of Business Owners, part of the economic censuses fielded by the bureau every five years. The 2002 survey results are flowing now, with the report on black-owned businesses released today. The report shows a 45 percent increase in the number of black-owned firms between 1997 and 2002. The nation's 1.2 million black-owned businesses generated $89 billion in revenue.

The report on the 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses was released by the bureau in March. The number of Hispanic-owned firms increased by 31 percent between 1997 and 2002, and they generated $222 billion in revenue in 2002. The report on Asian-owned businesses is scheduled for release soon.

For those who want to analyze the nation's 6.5 million women-owned businesses, the detailed report was released in January. Firms owned by women account for 30 percent of all non-farm businesses in the U.S.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Hispanics as a percent of the U.S. population: 14
Hispanics as a percent of voters in the 2004 presidential election: 6

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why Worry about Health Insurance?

The latest estimates of health insurance coverage generated by the National Center for Health Statistics can be found in Health Insurance Coverage: Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January-September, 2005 (warning: PDF download), and at first glance the numbers appear reassuring. Between 1997 and 2005, the percentage of Americans without health insurance at the time of the survey declined from 15 to 14 percent. Among adults aged 18 to 64, the percentage without insurance stood at 19 percent in both years. Among children under age 18, the percentage without insurance fell from 14 to 9 percent. (Virtually everyone aged 65 or older is covered by the federal government's Medicare system.)

But if you dig more deeply into the report's tables, the alarms start to go off. Health insurance coverage rates have remained stable only because a growing share of people are getting their insurance through public rather than private plans. The percentage of children covered by public health insurance climbed steeply between 1997 and 2005, rising from 21 to 30 percent. Among working-age adults, the percentage covered by public insurance rose from 10 to 12 percent.

Dig even deeper and you arrive at the crux of the problem. Adults with incomes near the poverty level are flooding the public health insurance system as the cost of private health plans spirals beyond their reach. The percentage of near-poor adults aged 18 to 64 with private health insurance coverage plummeted from 53 to 44 percent between 1997 and 2005 (the near poor are defined as those with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty level). The percentage of the near poor with public health insurance climbed from 15 to 21 percent during those years. (Among their poor counterparts, the percentage with public health insurance grew more slowly, rising from 34 to 37 percent).

Among the non-poor (those with incomes more than twice the poverty level) private health insurance coverage rates fell only slightly, from 87 to 85 percent between 1997 and 2005. But how long will it be before even the middle-class cannot afford private health insurance? With the federal government threatening to pare back spending on public insurance, millions of Americans may soon join the ranks of the uninsured. The near poor may be the canary in the coal mine, signaling the imminent breakdown of our health insurance system.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Cutting the Landline

A new survey of cell phone use, How Americans Use Their Cell Phones, by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the Associated Press, and AOL confirms trends documented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey. Young adults are increasingly dependent on cell rather than landline phones. 

A small number of Americans use cell phones only—perhaps 7 to 9 percent, according to the cell phone survey report. Those who do are disproportionately under age 30. The figure may grow—and rapidly. Among 18-to-29-year-olds who use landlines, a substantial 40 percent say they are somewhat or very likely to give up their landline in the future. Among adults aged 30 or older, only 19 percent say they are somewhat or very likely to cut the landline. 

According to unpublished data from the 2004 Consumer Expenditure Survey, householders under age 25 spend 51 percent more on cell phone than landline service. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, cell phone spending is below landline spending, but not by much. Of course spending more on cell than landline service is different than giving up a landline altogether. The cell phone survey shows that those with cell-only service are disproportionately poorer than other households and have probably given up their landline to save money. 

Will the profile of cell-only users become more upscale in the years ahead? That depends on the decisions made by today's teens and young adults when they establish their own households. But there's no doubt that cell phone spending will soon surpass landline spending. In 2004, households spent $69 billion on landline service (down from $91 billion in 2000, after adjusting for inflation) and $44 billion on cell phone service (up from $14 billion in 2000). At those rates of change, the crossover could occur this year.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Rising Fortunes of 55-to-64-Year-Olds May Not Be Good News

This is a tale of two age groups, the one overcome by a wave of economic change and the other triumphantly riding the wave —or so it might seem.

Those tumbling in the wave are 35-to-44-year-olds, the age group now filled with the youngest boomers (this year boomers span the ages from 42 to 60) and the oldest generation Xers (aged 30 to 41). Those riding the wave are 55-to-64-year-olds, the age group filling with the oldest boomers.

The socioeconomic trends among 35-to-44-year-olds are grim:
1. Men's incomes are shrinking: The median income of men aged 35 to 44 was not only lower in 2004 than in 2000, it was also 3 percent below the level of 1990, after adjusting for inflation. In contrast, the median income of the average man rose 7 percent between 1990 and 2004, according to the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey.
2. Household net worth is declining: The net worth of households headed by 35-to-44-year-olds fell 16 percent between 2001 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation—the only age group to lose ground during those years, according to the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances.

In contrast, take a look at the trends among 55-to-64-year-olds:
1. Men's incomes are growing: The median income of men aged 55 to 64 grew nearly twice as fast as the average between 1990 and 2004 (up 13 percent) and even grew 5 percent between 2000 and 2004.
2. Household net worth is rising: The net worth of households headed by 55-to-64-year-olds increased by an impressive 29 percent between 2001 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation—the greatest gain among age groups and far above the paltry 1.5 percent gain for the average household during those years.

But 55-to-64-year-olds may be riding a wave into a rocky shore. Behind their growing incomes and net worth is greater labor force participation as pension benefits shrink and retirement recedes. The labor force participation rate of men in the age group rose 2 percentage points (from 67 to 69 percent) between 2000 and 2005. Among women aged 55 to 64, the labor force participation rate rose even more (from 52 to 57 percent) as career-oriented boomers filled the age group.

Working more because retirement benefits are shrinking (a de facto pay cut) is not good news for the millions without substantial retirement savings, although it will delay by a few years the rocky landing that lies ahead.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cool Research Link: Working Papers from the 12 Federal Reserve Banks

Think you're working harder than ever? Not so, says new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. A study by Mark Agular, a senior economist at the Boston bank and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago examines time use over five decades and finds both men and women working less and playing more. Their study, "Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades," documents the decline in hours spent working by nonretired men and women aged 21 to 65 between 1965 and 2003. Although women in 2003 work more than those in 1965, the authors find the increase in women's work hours have been more than offset by the decline in the time women spend doing housework. During those years, men's work hours declined, although the drop has been somewhat offset by an increase in the amount of time men spend doing household chores such as shopping, food preparation, and cleaning. Overall, the amount of time men and women spend in market (paid) work has dropped from 34.24 to 33.01 hours per week, a decline of 1.23 hours. The amount of time men and women spend doing household chores has dropped from 23.52 to 18.00 hours, a decline of 5.52 hours since 1965. Total hours of work per week, then, have fallen (and leisure increased) by an average of 7.60 hours among men and 6.44 hours among women. 

This is just one of many fascinating studies generated by the nation's 12 Federal Reserve Banks (in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland,
Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco). If you burrow into each bank's Research link, you can find studies on the economic impact of early childhood education (Minneapolis), on whether black workers pay a price for having ethnic names (St. Louis), and a theory of political cycles (Richmond). Most important to many researchers is the analysis of regional economic trends generated by each bank. Those who want an in-depth exploration of how businesses and consumers are faring in a specific region should take a look at that area's Federal Reserve Bank research.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Fifty-three percent of Americans live in one of the nation's 673 coastal counties, according to the Census Bureau, down from 54 percent in 1970.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

More about Women in the Labor Force

Let's talk about the labor force participation rate of women again. This time, let's look at labor force rates by Hispanic origin. Hispanic women are much less likely to work than the average American woman, and the growing presence of Hispanics among young adults in the population is reducing the labor force participation rates of young women. 

In 2005, the labor force participation rate of Hispanic women aged 20 to 24 was just 59.4 percent—much lower than the 70.1 percent labor force participation rate of all women in the age group. Subtracting Hispanics from the total lifts the labor force participation rate of women aged 20 to 24 to 72.2 percent. 

Men are not immune from these forces, although Hispanics have the opposite effect on men's rates because Hispanic men are more likely to work than non-Hispanic men. The labor force participation rate of men aged 20 to 24 was 79.1 percent in 2005. Without Hispanic men in the mix, the age group's labor force participation would have been an even lower 77.9 percent.

Between 2000 and 2005, the labor force participation rate of women aged 20 to 24 fell 3.0 percentage points (from 73.1 to 70.1 percent). The labor force participation rate of men aged 20 to 24 fell 3.5 percentage points (from 82.6 to 79.1 percent). The rates for Hispanic men and women fell by an even larger amount—down more than 5 percentage points during those years. What explains a decline in labor force participation that is greater among men than women and greater among Hispanics (who are more likely to work in low-paying entry-level jobs) than non-Hispanics? The explanation is a weak economy.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Will Social Security "Run Out"?

The steady stream of articles about the baby-boom generation's impending retirement often state as fact that funds in the Social Security system will run out as boomers collect their due. 

Not true. America's workers will still pay into the system. Yes, the Social Security surplus will disappear, but the cash flow will continue. Even without any further changes to the system, Social Security will be able to pay 71 to 81 percent of promised benefits indefinitely.

It's also important to remember that the "pig in the python" won't be stuck there forever. Eventually, boomers will exit the system, and Social Security will swing back into a better demographic balance. 

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

How Many Are Sleepless?

The pharmaceutical industry wants to know. And the American Time Use Survey has the answer. On an average night, 3.7 percent of Americans aged 15 or older experience sleeplessness. That's 8.5 million people tossing and turning each night. Do the multiplication and you get something like 3 billion nights of sleeplessness each year in the United States, according to unpublished data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey.

The average American gets 8.6 hours of sleep a night (including time spent tossing and turning), with teenagers getting the most (9.5 hours) and 45-to-54-year-olds the least (8.2 hours). Who is most likely to be sleepless? Women aged 65 and older.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

The homeownership rate of householders under age 25 climbed from 17 to 26 percent between 1985 and 2005. The number of homeowners in the age group increased by an enormous 79 percent, to 1.7 million.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Nothing New Here

Today's New York Times reports that, after decades of steady increases, women's labor force participation "has stalled, even slipping somewhat in the last five years and leaving it at a rate well below that of men."

Every time women's labor force participation slips a bit, out come the pundits to complete the narrative arc that so enamors those longing for the good old days—women have come to their senses and are returning home to raise their children. But a number of facts don't fit nicely into this narrative, such as:

1. Between 2000 and 2005, men's labor force participation fell MORE than women's (men: down 1.5 percentage points to 73.3 percent; women: down 0.6 percentage points to 59.3 percent).

2. Between 2000 and 2005, labor force participation rates declined for both men and women in every age group under age 55 (age groups 16-17, 18-19, and five-year age groups from 20-24 to 50-54). In four of the nine age groups under age 55, the decline in men's labor force participation was GREATER than the decline in women's participation. Isn't it probable that men's and women's rates are declining for the same reason? What is the reason, and why aren't men part of the discussion? Because it doesn't fit the story.

3. During soft economic times, women with young children will be more likely to stay home if they can afford not to work. This is not a new trend; it's just common sense. That explains why the biggest drop in women's labor force participation rate since 2000 has been among married women with preschoolers.

4. What about the impact of the growing Hispanic population on women's labor force participation? Hispanic women are less likely to work than Asian, black, or non-Hispanic white women. They account for a growing share of young adults, including 22 percent of married women under age 30. The lower participation rate of Hispanic women is no doubt depressing women's overall labor force participation. Just how much remains to be seen by someone willing to stray from the storyline.

5. The Times article comments that women's labor force participation is now stalled "far below" men’s in the same age group—implying that the "cultural transformation" brought about by working women has somehow fallen short of its goal. But this is a straw dog. No demographer has ever predicted that women's labor force participation would equal men's. Biology dictates that women will be more involved in childbearing and childrearing than men. Consequently, on average they will never participate in the labor force at the same rate as men.

6. The enormous rise in women's labor force participation rate was destined to run its course. Most women who want or need to work are now in the labor force. The small ups and downs from year to year in women's participation rate are recording only the decisions of women at the margins, not heralding a return to traditional family life.

Time for a new story.

Why the Decline in Homeownership?

What accounts for the decline in the homeownership rate between 2004 and 2005? One possible explanation is the economic malaise of the past few years, with incomes stagnating and poverty increasing. Another explanation could be divorce, with homeowning couples splitting into two households—one owner and one renter. Or perhaps homeowners in some markets are cashing out.

A look at the regional statistics suggests economic stagnation is the biggest factor behind the decline. The overall homeownership rate rose in the Northeast (from 65.0 to 65.2 percent) and West (from 64.2 to 64.4 percent) between 2004 and 2005—where some of the hottest housing markets are located. The rate fell a tiny bit in the South (from 70.9 to 70.8 percent). In the Midwest, however, which has been hard hit by layoffs in the manufacturing sector, the decline in homeownership was relatively steep—falling from 73.8 to 73.1 percent between 2004 and 2005.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What's Up with Homeownership?

The Census Bureau just posted its 2005 annual average estimates of homeownership here. Interestingly, the nation's overall homeownership rate fell during the past year, dropping from 69.0 to 68.9 percent of households between 2004 and 2005. The homeownership rate was down slightly in almost every age group.

Since 2000, the overall homeownership rate has increased by 1.5 percentage points, with small declines in only two five-year age groups (among householders aged 50 to 54 and 65 to 69). Householders under age 25 saw their homeownership rate rise the most, up 4 percentage points between 2000 and 2005, to 26 percent. Householders aged 65 to 74 continue to have the highest homeownership rate, with 83 percent of householders in the age group owning their home.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

According to a Pew Research Center report, 42 percent of adults with at least one living parent see or talk with a parent every day. In 1989, only 32 percent maintained daily contact with a parent.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Olympic Medals Per Capita

The 2006 Winter Olympics is a showcase of talent for winter sports. So who came out on top? Germany may have won the most medals—29 of the 252 medals awarded at the games, but Norway beat every other country in medals per capita—an estimated 414 medals per 1 million population.

Per capita medal counts might be considered a better measure of winter sport talent since larger populations boost the probability that a country will have a top performer. By the per capita measure, Germany ranks only 12th in the medal count, with 35 medals per 1 million population. The U.S., which came in second in the overall medal count with a win of 25, ranks a lowly 21st among the 26 countries with at least one medal win, with 8 medals per 1 million population.

Some countries are so small that any win places them high in the per capita rankings. Latvia’s single medal places it ahead of most other countries by the per capita measure. On the other hand, China is so large that even if its athletes won every medal at the games it would still have only 19 medals per capita.

Below is the ranking of countries by their per capita medal count, with actual medals won shown in parentheses. (The populations used to determine the per capita count are for July 2005 and are from the CIA’s World Factbook):

1. Norway: 414 (19)
2. Austria: 281 (23)
3. Estonia: 225 (3)
4. Switzerland: 187 (14)
5. Finland: 172 (9)
6. Sweden: 156 (14)
7. Canada: 73 (24)
8. Croatia: 67 (3)
9. Netherlands: 55 (9)
10. Latvia: 44 (1)
11. Czech Republic: 39 (4)
12. Germany: 35 (29)
13. South Korea: 23 (11)
14. Italy: 19 (11)
15. Slovakia: 18 (1)
16. Russia: 15 (22)
17. France: 15 (9)
18. Bulgaria: 13 (1)
19. Australia: 10 (2)
20. Belarus: 10 (1)
21. United States: 8 (25)
22. Poland: 5 (2)
23. Ukraine: 4 (2)
24. United Kingdom: 2 (1)
25. China: 1 (11)
26. Japan: 1 (1)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why Can't Americans Save Money?

Results of the 2004 Survey of Consumer finances, released yesterday by the Federal Reserve Board, show a decline in the proportion of households that are saving money. From 59.2 percent in 2001, the proportion saving money during the past year fell to 56.1 percent in 2004. (The survey asked respondents whether their household spent more than their income, the same as their income, or less than their income during the past year. Those who spent less than their income were classified as savers.) Even more ominous given the aging of the population, the percentage of households with retirement accounts fell from 52.2 to 49.7 percent between 2001 and 2004.

This is only the latest evidence of the American struggle to save. Other research has shown participation in retirement savings plans to be woefully inadequate. An analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reveals that a 40 percent minority of workers participate in a 401(k)-type plan or own an IRA. Another study by EBRI finds only 4.5 percent of workers made a tax-deductible contribution to an IRA in 2002, down from 6.5 percent in 1992.

The 2005 Retirement Confidence Survey finds only 25 percent of workers "very" confident in having enough money to afford a comfortable retirement. No wonder: The 52 percent majority have saved less than $25,000. Even among workers aged 45 or older, most have saved less than $50,000.

Why can't Americans save more? Many factors play a role, such as:
--The steep rise in the cost of necessities such as health insurance. Who can afford to save?
--Economic insecurity. When jobs are tenuous, saving seems like an unaffordable luxury.
--Stock market volatility. Why invest when it might vanish tomorrow?
--Low interest rates. Might as well put your money under the mattress.
--The voluntary nature of retirement savings. Why not wing it and hope for the best?

For too many Americans, their retirement savings plan appears to be a lottery ticket.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

More Gold from Wealth Survey

Results from the long-awaited 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances were released by the Federal Reserve Board this morning, and number crunchers everywhere are drooling over the tables. It's a good thing the findings are so tasty because we will have to gnaw on them for the next three years.

NET WORTH: Household net worth (assets minus debts) barely increased between 2001 and 2004 (up 1.5 percent). Even worse, the net worth of householders aged 35 to 44 plunged by 16 percent during those years, after adjusting for inflation (falling from $82,600 to $69,400). Why? Their financial assets lost value, they took on more debt, and the small increase in the value of their nonfinancial assets (read: homes) did not make up the difference.

FINANCIAL ASSETS: The average household lost a lot of ground here. The median value of the financial assets owned by the average household fell 23 percent between 2001 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation--from a median of $29,800 to $23,000. A smaller 48.6 percent of households owned stock in 2004, down from 51.9 percent in 2001. Among families owning stock both directly and indirectly through mutual funds and retirement accounts, median stock value fell from $36,700 to $24,300. Financial assets as a share of total assets fell from 42 to 36 percent.

NON-FINANCIAL ASSETS: The rise in homeownership can be seen in these numbers. The homeownership rate increased from 67.7 to 69.1 percent between 2001 and 2004. The median value of the average household's nonfinancial assets (including homes) rose 22 percent from$120,900 to $147,800, after adjusting for inflation. The median value of the average household's primary residence climbed 22 percent, from $131,000 to $160,000.

DEBT: Not surprisingly, Americans are deeper in debt. The median amount of debt for households with debt (76 percent of households) rose by 34 percent between 2001 and 2004, from $41,300 to $55,300 after adjusting for inflation. Seventy percent of debt is for home purchase. Credit card debt remains modest. Forty-six percent of households carried a balance on their credit card, owing a median of just $2,200 in 2004.

Federal Reserve Releases New Wealth Data

The Federal Reserve Board released the long-awaited update of the triennial Survey of Consumer Finances at 9:30 this morning. It is available here.

The Survey of Consumer Finances is the only comprehensive look at the wealth of American households over time and by demographic characteristic. The last survey was fielded in 2001, before the 9/11 terrorist attacks and consequent economic disruptions. So what has happened to the wealth of Americans since then? Bottom line: Median household net worth inched up by only 1.5 percent between 2001 and 2004--from $91,700 to $93,100, after adjusting for inflation. This compares with a gain of 17 percent between 1995 and 1998 and 10 percent between 1998 and 2001.

Stay tuned for more analysis...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Boomer Story Takes a Turn

This should give you pause: During the next 15 years, the baby-boom generation will shrink by 10 percent. Between 2005 and 2020, the number of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 will fall from 78 million to 70 million, according to Census Bureau projections. Soon, boomers will no longer be the largest generation. That dubious honor will pass to the millennial generation, born between 1977 and 1994.

The big shrink begins when boomer deaths outnumber gains from immigration. My estimates show we have passed the tipping point. Immigrants in the baby-boom age group boost the boomer population by about 200,000 a year. Right now, deaths are trimming boomers by a slightly larger 223,000. Deaths will outnumber immigrants by a rapidly expanding margin with each passing year.

The older generations of Americans are already in steep decline. The number of people in what we call the Swing (born between 1933 and 1945) and World War II generations (born before 1933) will fall by more than half during the next 15 years, plummeting from 50 million in 2005 to 23 million in 2020.