Tuesday, October 27, 2020

First-Time Homebuyer Watch: 3rd Quarter 2020

Homeownership rate of householders aged 30 to 34, third quarter 2020: 50.1%

For the first time since 2011, the homeownership rate of householders aged 30 to 34 edged above the 50 percent threshold, allowing them to reclaim their position as the nation's first-time homebuyers. First-time homebuyers are defined as the age group in which the homeownership rate first surpasses 50 percent. Historically, householders aged 30-to-34 were the nation's first-time homebuyers. But in 2011, their homeownership rate fell below 50 percent and has been stuck there ever since. Until now. 

Let's postpone the celebration, however. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the nation's data collection efforts. The Housing Vacancy Survey (HVS), which produces the quarterly homeownership statistics, is no exception. Because of the pandemic, the Census Bureau has been collecting HVS data by telephone rather than in-person interviews, and monthly response rates have dropped. Just 66 percent of households responded in July and 69 percent in August. This compares with a response rate of 83 percent for those months in 2019. When the Census Bureau resumed in-person interviews in September, the response rate increased to 79 percent, a hopeful sign that things will eventually return to normal. 

But not yet. As was true for second quarter 2020 data, third quarter data cannot be taken at face value. As senior research associate Daniel McCue of the Joint Center for Housing Studies explains it: "It appears that we are in for a period of time where trends in housing metrics obtained from the HVS—such as homeownership rates, vacancy rates, and household growth—will be difficult to determine and largely unknown."

Source: Census Bureau, Housing Vacancy Survey

Monday, October 26, 2020

Percentage of Men at Work Hits Record Low

Working parents are having a tough time coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Just how tough is spelled out in a Pew Research Center analysis of monthly data from the 2020 Current Population Survey. For many parents, the pandemic means they can't work at all—either they lost their job or they have had to leave the labor force to care for children and supervise their education. 

Only 60.5 percent of all men aged 16 or older were employed and working in September 2020, Pew reports. This is the smallest share of men at work on record and well below the 65.3 percent who were working in September 2019. The trend for women is similar. Only 49.2 percent of women aged 16 or older were employed and working in September 2020, the smallest share in 35 years and down from 54.0 percent in September 2019.

One reason for these low figures is the struggle parents face as they attempt to juggle work, child care, and homeschooling. The percentage of mothers and fathers who were working in September 2020 was well below the 2019 figures. Among fathers, the biggest decline occurred for those with children under age 3. In September 2019, fully 91.9 percent of these fathers were working. In September 2020, a smaller 85.0 percent were working—a 6.9 percentage point drop. Among mothers, those with children aged 3 to 13 registered the biggest decline—a 6.7 percentage point drop. The parents fortunate enough to be working in September 2020 reported fewer hours of work per week than their counterparts did in September 2019. 

The findings of this analysis are in contrast to earlier studies, Pew notes. The earlier studies showed mothers cutting back on work more than fathers. The latest findings show the coronavirus pandemic affecting mothers and fathers similarly. 

Source: Pew Research Center, Fewer Mothers and Fathers in U.S. Are Working Due to Covid-19 Downturn; Those at Work Have Cut Hours

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Blacks Are More than Twice as Likely as Whites to Know Someone Who Died from Covid-19

Twenty-two percent of all Americans know someone who died from Covid-19, according to PRRI's 2020 American Values Survey. Blacks are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to know someone who died...

Percent who know someone who died from Covid-19
38% of Blacks
29% of Hispanics
16% of non-Hispanic whites

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Who Do You Believe about the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Nearly half of the American public (49 percent) has "a lot" of trust in Dr. Anthony Fauci to provide accurate information about the coronavirus pandemic, according to the PRRI 2020 American Values Survey. The only other source that garners slightly more trust (51 percent) is university research centers. Just 14 percent of the public has a lot of trust in Donald Trump to provide accurate information about the pandemic. But there are big differences in trust by political ideology. Here are the percentages with "a lot" of trust in each source...

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci: 73 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Republicans 
  • University research centers: 65 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of Republicans
  • State and local health organizations: 60 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of Republicans
  • Joe Biden: 58 percent of Democrats and 4 percent of Republicans
  • CDC: 57 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans
  • Donald Trump: 1 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of Republicans

Republicans who say Fox News is their most trusted source of television news are much more likely to trust Donald Trump to keep them informed about the pandemic. Fully 58 percent of Fox News Republicans, as PRRI calls them, have a lot of trust in Donald Trump as a source of information about coronavirus. In fact, Donald Trump is their most trusted source—far ahead of university research centers (32 percent), Dr. Fauci (23 percent), and state and local health organizations (15 percent). 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Median Home Value at Record High in 2019

The median value of the American home has finally surpassed the manic figure of 2007—just before the housing bubble burst. The nation's homeowners reported a median home value of $240,500 in 2019, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS). This is a bit more than the $239,600 reported by homeowners in 2007, after adjusting for inflation. After 12 long years, perhaps this valuation now reflects reality—in contrast to the wishful thinking of 2007.

Not every survey agrees that median housing value is at a record high. According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, homeowners reported a median home value of $225,000 in 2019, well below the $246,900 of 2007, after adjusting for inflation. According to the Census Bureau's American Housing Survey, homeowners reported a median value of $230,000 in 2019, still below the inflation-adjusted $236,100 of 2007. But the American Community Survey's sample size is much larger than either the American Housing Survey or the Survey of Consumer Finances, so the ACS is more likely to reflect reality. 

Median home value for selected years, 2007 to 2019 (in 2019 dollars)
2019: $240,500 (new record high)
2018: $229,700 
2015: $209,800
2013: $190,800 (post-Great Recession low)
2010: $210,900
2007: $239,600 (previous record high)

It is unknown how the coronavirus pandemic will affect home values. But the record-low mortgage interest rates of 2020 are spurring more home buying, which is likely to boost values even higher.

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the Census Bureau's American Community Survey

Monday, October 19, 2020

Inheritances Fuel Wealth Disparity

The median net worth of Black householders under age 35 was just $600 in 2019, according to the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). This is just a fraction of the $25,400 median net worth of non-Hispanic white householders in the age group. The wealth gap does not disappear with age...  

Median net worth of Black and non-Hispanic white households by age of householder, 2019
      Black    non-Hispanic white
Under age 35          $600              $25,400
Aged 35 to 54     $40,100            $185,000
Aged 55-plus     $53,800            $315,000

One reason for the wealth gap between Blacks and non-Hispanic whites is disparity in the intergenerational transmission of wealth, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Board. Non-Hispanic white households are much more likely than Black households to receive financial gifts that boost their net worth—such as funds to pay for college or help buying a house. Non-Hispanic whites are also much more likely than Blacks to receive an inheritance.  

A substantial 30 percent of non-Hispanic white households have already received an inheritance, according to the 2019 SCF. Only 10 percent of Black households have received one. Non-Hispanic white households are also more likely than Black households to expect an inheritance in the future—17 versus 6 percent. These inheritances are often the seed money that helps parents gift their children with college tuitions and downpayments. And so it goes. 

Source: Federal Reserve Board, Disparities in Wealth by Race and Ethnicity in the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Family Home Still the Most Valuable Asset

The family home is still the single most valuable asset owned by the average American household. The primary residence accounted for 26 percent of the value of all household assets, according to the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances. In second place is business equity, accounting for 19 percent. Retirement accounts are in third place (15 percent). 

Distribution of the value of household assets, 2019
Primary residence: 26.1%
Business equity: 19.5%
Retirement accounts: 15.1%
Pooled investment funds: 9.0%
Other residential property: 6.2%
Stocks: 6.1%
Transaction accounts: 4.8%
Nonresidential property: 3.0%
Vehicles: 2.7%
Other: 7.5%

Between 1989 and 2019, retirement accounts more than doubled as a share of total household assets—rising from 7 to 15 percent. Similarly, pooled investment funds (mutual funds) also grew in importance, climbing from just 2 percent of the total in 1989 to the 9 percent of 2019. The value of the family home, in contrast, fell during those years. The primary residence accounted for 31 percent of total household assets in 1989 and 26 percent in 2019. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

New Spending Categories in the 2019 CEX

It is always interesting to note any changes in the line items of the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX) each year. New items, combined items, and deleted items reveal the effort by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to keep up with changes in technology and lifestyles. 

In 2005, for example, the expenditure category "personal digital audio equipment" was added to the survey to capture spending on Apple's phenomenally successful iPod and similar devices. But, as Demo Memo reported previously, by the time "personal digital audio equipment" made it into the CEX, average household spending on this item was at its peak, topping out at $22.08 in 2006 (in 2019 dollars). By 2019, average household spending on personal digital audio players had fallen to just $0.51. Yes, that's 51 cents.

CEX researchers occasionally combine items, which can dismay those who track spending trends. Demo Memo reported on one such combo a few years ago. In 2017, the "video cassette, tape, and disc rentals" category was folded into the "streamed and downloaded video" category. Consequently, analysts could no longer track spending on streaming/downloading alone, which had been one of the fastest growing entertainment categories of the 2006-to-2016 decade.

What's new in the recently released 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey? Only a handful of items. Let's start with the mundane: "swimwear" has been added as an apparel category for men, women, boys, and girls. It's not clear where swimwear spending was housed prior to its becoming a line item  in 2019—perhaps it was included in underwear or in costumes?

More interesting are two other new categories in the 2019 CEX—"scooters and other single rider transportation," and "bike sharing." The average household spent $4.79 on scooters in 2019, which doesn't sound like much because the average includes both purchasers and non purchasers. But this amount is more than twice what the average household spent on men's swimwear in 2019. The biggest spenders on scooters are people aged 75 or older. At this age, the scooter surely must be a mobility device, which raises the question of why it appears under the "sports, recreation, and exercise equipment" umbrella rather in the transportation section alongside cars, motorcycles, airplanes, and buses.  

The average household spent a lot less on bike sharing than on scooters in 2019—just $0.22, although it should be noted that data collection on this item did not start until the second quarter of 2019. Give it time, and spending on bike sharing is likely to rise. Like scooters, bike sharing is in the "sports, recreation and exercise equipment" category, but arguably more deserving of its placement there. The biggest spenders on bike sharing are householders under age 25. Among householders aged 65 or older, there are no 2019 spending data for bike sharing—meaning very few older Americans availed themselves of the service. Note that car sharing, unlike bike sharing, does not yet have its own line item in the CEX. The significant household spending on car sharing shows up in the transportation category, subsumed under "taxi fares" (for services such as Uber, Lyft, etc.), while Zipcar and similar platforms likely add to spending on "rented vehicles." 

Source: Demo Memo analysis of unpublished tables from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Small Businesses Still Pessimistic

When the coronavirus first swept through the country, most small businesses were optimistic about a rapid return to normal. Only 39 percent told the Census Bureau's Small Business Pulse Survey during the week of April 26-May 2 that they expected it to be more than six months before their operations returned to normal. As the pandemic dragged on, however, business pessimism grew. By the week of May 17-23, a larger 52 percent majority of small businesses thought it would take more than six months before normal returned. 

Hope rekindled in June, however. During the week of June 7-13, the share of small businesses that thought it would be more than six months before a return to normal fell back below the 50 percent threshold—to 47.4 percent. But the optimism lasted only a week. As the summer surge commenced, the percentage of businesses expecting it to be more than 6 months before a return to normal again climbed above 50 percent. And that's where it has been, week after week, ever since. 

Percent of small businesses expecting it will be more than 6 months before operations return to normal, or operations will never return to normal, or the business has permanently closed
Week 1 (4/26-5/2):     37.6%
Week 2 (5/3-5/9):       39.0%
Week 3 (5/10-5/16):   41.6%
Week 4 (5/17-5/23):   51.8% (first time above 50 percent)
Week 5 (5/24-5/30):   50.8%
Week 6: (5/31-6/6):    51.1%
Week 7 (6/7-6/13):     47.4% (last time below 50 percent)
Week 8 (6/14-6/20):   50.3%
.
.
.
Week 17 (9/27-10-3): 52.9%

Source: Census Bureau, Small Business Pulse Survey

Monday, October 12, 2020

24% Expect to Lose Employment Income in Next Four Weeks

In the final week of September, nearly one in four Americans aged 18 or older expected that they or someone in their household would lose employment income in the next four weeks—before the November 3 presidential election. Nearly half (46 percent) had already experienced a loss of employment income in their household since March 13, 2020. These results are from the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, which is tracking the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the American public. The latest survey was fielded during the week of September 16-28. Here are the percentages who expected to lose income by age group...

Percent who expect a loss of employment income in household in next four weeks
Total 18-plus: 24.0%
Aged 18 to 24: 21.7%
Aged 25 to 39: 27.2%
Aged 40 to 54: 27.9%
Aged 55 to 64: 25.3%
Aged 65-plus: 15.1%

A substantial share of the population is expecting the axe to fall regardless of demographic characteristic. By education, the percentage of adults who say their household's employment income will decline in the next four weeks ranges from a high of 36 percent among those without a high school diploma to a still substantial 18 percent among people with a bachelor's degree. By household income, the figure ranges from a high of 35 percent among those with incomes below $25,000 to a significant 16 percent of those with household incomes of $100,000 or more. 

Such widespread financial distress is likely to be a big factor on election day. 

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Democrats, Republicans Far Apart on Importance of Coronavirus

The 62 percent majority of voters say the coronavirus outbreak is very important to their vote in the 2020 presidential election, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Coronavirus is not the most important issue, however. More important than coronavirus is the economy (79 percent of voters say the economy is very important to their vote), health care (68 percent), and Supreme Court appointments (64 percent). Of course, Democrats and Republicans have different opinions about the importance of coronavirus...

Percent of voters who say the coronavirus outbreak is very important to their vote
Democrats: 82%
Republicans: 39%

Note: Pew fielded this survey before the President became infected with Covid-19. How the White House outbreak affects voting priorities remains to be seen. 

Source: Pew Research Center, Important Issues in the 2020 Election

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Most Americans Feel Less Safe

The 55 percent majority of Americans say they feel less safe than they did five years ago, according to a Lloyd's Register Foundation poll undertaken in partnership with Gallup. The poll explored attitudes toward and perceptions of risk in 142 countries around the world, interviewing 150,000 people. 

The World Risk Poll was fielded in 2019, well before Covid-19 became one of the major risks faced by the public each day. Yet most Americans at the time reported feeling less safe. The United States is an anomaly in this regard. Worldwide, a smaller 36 percent of the public reported feeling less safe in 2019 than five years earlier. 

Perhaps the cause of this anomaly is the fact that Americans are more likely than the average global citizen to report a harmful experience in the past two years. Fully 25 percent of Americans say they have experienced harm from violent crime in the past two years, for example, compared with an 18 percent global average. More than one-third of Americans (35 percent) say they have been harmed by severe weather in the past two years versus 22 percent worldwide. An even larger 40 percent of Americans say they have experienced harm from mental health problems, double the 20 percent global average. 

The U.S. public is also more worried than average about issues such as climate change. Nearly half (49 percent) of Americans say climate change is a very serious threat to the United States over the next 20 years. Worldwide, a smaller 41 percent of the public regards climate change as a very serious threat to their country. Americans are also more worried about receiving false information when online. Fully 67 percent of internet users in the U.S. worry about this versus 57 percent of internet users worldwide. 

Source: Gallup, Did You Risk Your Life Today? and The Lloyd's Register Foundation World Risk Poll 

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

30 Years of Student Loans

Student loans are a ball and chain around the necks of millions of Americans. It didn't used to be this way. The first time the Federal Reserve fielded the Survey of Consumer Finances in 1989, only 8.9 percent of households had student loans. Those households owed a median of just $6,000 (in 2019 dollars) in education debt. Thirty years later in 2019, a much larger 21.4 percent of households had student loans, and they owed a median of $22,000. 

Of course, younger adults carry the biggest burden of student loans. Among householders under age 35, the share with education debt climbed from 17 percent in 1989 to 41 percent in 2019. A growing share of middle-aged householders also have education debt. Take a look...

Percent of households with education debt by age of householder, 1989 and 2019
      2019     1989
Total households      21.4%      8.9%
Under age 35      41.4    17.1
Aged 35 to 44      33.7    10.9
Aged 45 to 54      23.3      7.3
Aged 55 to 64      12.2      4.1
Aged 65 to 74        4.2      NA
Aged 75-plus        NA      NA

NA = Too few cases to make an estimate.

The rise of education debt helps to explain why the net worth of householders under age 55 was lower in 2019 than it was in 1989, after adjusting for inflation. The net worth of householders aged 55 or older increased during those years...

Net worth of households by age of householder, 1989 and 2019 (in 2019 dollars)
      2019     1989       percent change
Total households     $121,800     $93,600           30.1%
Under age 35         14,000      16,200          -13.6
Aged 35 to 44         91,100    112,500          -19.0
Aged 45 to 54       168,800    195,100          -13.5
Aged 55 to 64       213,200    195,300             9.2
Aged 65 to 74       266,100    154,300           72.5
Aged 75-plus       254,900    144,300           76.6

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances

Monday, October 05, 2020

Most Americans Don't Get Enough Exercise: True or False?

There's a lot of tsk-tsking about how little exercise Americans get, with many blaming our couch potato lifestyle for our growing girth. Now this notion is being called into question by a CDC study that probes more deeply how much exercise the average person gets in a typical week. 

First, a little background. The federal government measures our physical activity through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The survey asks respondents how much moderate/vigorous leisure-time physical activity they get in a typical week. Over the years, the survey has consistently found a minority of adults meeting the government's guideline of 150 moderate-intensity minutes of physical activity per week. Only 38.6 percent met the aerobic guideline in 2011–16.

But wait. All this time, the government has been counting only leisure-time physical activity. So all the sweat and tears of those who move furniture, hammer nails, dig ditches, chase toddlers, clean houses, and turn patients don't count. Until now. The CDC added additional questions to the 2011–16 NHANES asking about physical activity during paid work, housework, and transportation (walking to the store, biking to work). Voila! When those domains are also considered, the 64 percent majority of adults meet the aerobic guideline. Not only that, but some of the exercise disparities between groups narrow. 

Take education, for example. When measuring only leisure-time physical activity, the percentage who meet the aerobic guideline ranges from a low of 22 percent for the least educated (without a high school diploma) to 53 percent among the best educated (with a bachelor's degree)—a 31.2 percentage point gap. But when physical activity during paid work, housework, and transportation are added to the mix, the gap is cut in half. The 54.6 percent majority of those with the least education now meet the guideline compared with 69.1 percent of college graduates, a 14.5 percentage point gap. 

When all domains are considered, the majority of Americans in all but one demographic segment meet the federal guideline for aerobic physical activity during a typical week. People aged 65 or older are the only ones who fall short, with 46.5 percent meeting the guideline (up from 27.3 percent when only leisure-time physical activity is considered). Why doesn't the federal government always include the other domains when it asks about physical activity? Because doing so would add questions to the survey and increase respondent burden, the CDC notes. 

The fact that Americans get more exercise than long assumed is good news. But there's bad news as well. If most Americans are meeting the aerobic physical activity guideline, then something other than a lack of exercise must be to blame for our increasing weight. Time to start skipping dessert.

Source: CDC, Combining Data form Assessments of Leisure, Occupational, Household, and Transportation Physical Activity among Adults, NHANES 2011–2016