Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eating Local

Percent who have eaten lunch or dinner at the following types of restaurants in the past month...

Casual dining
Locally owned: 53%
Chain restaurant: 50%

Fine dining
Locally owned: 18%
Chain restaurant: 9%

Source: Harris Interactive, Seven in Ten Americans Cooking More Instead of Going Out to Save Money

Tooth Trouble

There are two ways to determine the health status of Americans. You can ask them and hear their hopes and dreams (as happens when people are asked about their weight or how much they drink). Or you can examine them and get the facts. The federal government does both.

Most are familiar with the government's surveys about health. Few are familiar with its mobile examination centers that set up shop at various locations throughout the country and physically weigh and measure a representative sample of the population. From those physical examinations, we know that 21.5 percent of the population has cavities--untreated dental caries (the technical term for it) in their mouth. As you might suspect, the percentage of the population with cavities varies greatly by demographic characteristic, with people aged 20 to 44 (25.1 percent), men (24.6 percent), and the poor (35.8 percent) most likely to have cavities.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Selected Oral Health Indicators in the United States, 2005-2008

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

College Dropouts

Most college students borrow money to pay for school. Not all of those borrowers graduate, however. Borrowers who drop out of college have much higher default rates than borrowers who graduate (16.8 percent versus 3.7 percent, respectively), according to an Education Sector report. Here are the percentages of borrowers who drop out of four-year schools, by type of school...

54% of borrowers drop out at private, for-profit schools
21% of borrowers drop out at public schools
19% of borrowers drop out at private, non-profit schools

Source: Education Sector, Degreeless in Debt: What Happens to Borrowers Who Drop Out?

What's Geography Got to Do With It?

The best cities. The top states. Nearly every day there's a new list showing how this region or that metro is the best or worst at something--as if geography has anything to do with it.

Ok, sometimes--but only rarely--does geography have anything to do with it. Geography, for example, has a lot to do with how much people spend on winter coats, how often they attend a rodeo, and how many pink flamingoes dot their yard.

Otherwise, it's the demographics--not the geographics--that make the difference.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Trends in Entertainment Spending

Entertainment spending by the average household climbed 6 percent between 2000 and 2010, after adjusting for inflation. Trends in entertainment spending differed greatly by age of householder, with householders under age 45 cutting their spending. Here is the percent change in household spending on entertainment by age of householder, 2000 to 2010 (in 2010 dollars)...

Under age 25: -12%
Aged 25 to 34: -5%
Aged 35 to 44: -2%
Aged 45 to 54: +9%
Aged 55 to 64: +8%
Aged 65-plus: +40%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000 and 2010 Consumer Expenditure Surveys

Sign of the Times

"Have you noticed? America is becoming a Renter Nation. There are now more than 100 million residential renters and we are proud to rent our homes."

So says Renter Nation, a new web site launched by Media Demographics, Inc., where current and potential renters can search for a rental, get information about rental issues such as security deposits and repairs, post questions about renting, and even register to vote.

Monday, May 28, 2012

No IPO for Them

The idea of starting a business is not all that appealing to the nation's college students. When students are asked to rate the attractiveness of starting their own company or non-profit organization in the next five years, these are the answers...

Very attractive: 17%
Somewhat attractive: 30%
Not very attractive: 27%
Not attractive at all: 26%

Why so little interest in being an entrepreneur? Maybe it's because 69 percent say they will be in debt when they graduate, owing a median of $30,000. That fact would also explain why the number-one life goal of today's college students is not finding meaningful work, contributing to society, finding a partner, or having children. The number-one goal is financial security.

Source: Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University, Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Going Online

How many Americans are online during an average month? Nielsen can tell you. According to its tracking, 211 million Americans were active online in April 2012. They went online an average of 64 times during the month, spending 29 hours browsing the web and viewing 2,703 web pages. Average time spent on a page: about 1 minute.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Retirement Dreams

When workers are asked which one activity best describes how they dream of spending their retirement, the largest share say travel (41%).

Source: Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, The 13th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, Redefining Retirement: The New 'Retirement Readiness'

Friday, May 25, 2012

2011 Births Below 4 Million

Fewer than 4 million babies were born in the United States in 2011, according to provisional estimates released by the National Center for Health Statistics. This is the first time that the annual number of births has fallen below 4 million since 1999. In 2011, 3,961,000 babies were born--1 percent fewer than the 4,000,279 births of 2010 and 8 percent below the all-time high of 4,316,233 births in 2007.

The 2011 fertility rate fell to an all-time low of 63.4 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Recent Trends in Births and Fertility Rates through December 2011 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Student Loan Mill

It is illegal for 18-year-olds to drink alcohol. But it is not illegal for them to borrow thousands of dollars to pay for college. Here are the percentages of freshmen at four-year institutions who personally signed on the dotted line in 2009-10, and the average amount they already owe with three more years to go...

All institutions: 58.7% ($7,213)
Public institutions: 50.0% ($6,063)
Private, non-profit: 63.0% ($7,466)
Private, for profit: 86.1% ($9,641)

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education

Why Work after Retirement?

Among workers who plan to work past age 65 or after they retire, these are the main reasons they will continue to work...

Can't afford to retire/want the income/need health benefits: 64%
Want to stay involved/enjoy what I do: 33%

Source: Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, The 13th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, Redefining Retirement: The New 'Retirement Readiness'

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Government Help by Education

Percent of people who live in households that receive food stamps or cash assistance by educational attainment...

Not a high school graduate: 22.4%
High school graduate: 13.1%
Some college or associate's degree: 9.3%
Bachelor's degree: 3.2%
Graduate degree: 1.6%

Source: Urban Institute, Receipt of Assistance by Education

Morally Acceptable

Percent of Americans aged 18 or older who say the following are morally acceptable...

Death penalty: 58%
Gay or lesbian relations: 54%
Having a baby outside of marriage: 54%

Source: Gallup, Americans, Including Catholics, Say Birth Control is Morally OK

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Emergency Room of Last Resort

Among adults aged 18 to 64 who visited an emergency room in the past 12 months but were not admitted to the hospital, percentage who said they went to the emergency room because they had no other health care place to go: 46%.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Emergency Room Use among Adults Aged 18-64: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January-June, 2011

Life is Good

When you have
1) a guaranteed income
2) annual cost of living increases
3) and government provided health insurance

These factors explain why the financial wellbeing of older Americans is better than the financial wellbeing of everyone else.

Source: Gallup, In U.S., Financial Wellbeing Improves with Age

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Stages of Housing Recovery

The worst is over for the housing market, says a report from the Demand Institute, a non-profit organization and collaboration between The Conference Board and Nielsen. The housing recovery will occur in stages, starting with growing demand from developers and investors for rental property. Young adults and immigrants will fill the rental units, and this will clear the oversupply of existing housing in two to three years. Once the oversupply is cleared, homeownership rates will rise and return to historical levels between 2015 and 2017.

I see several demographic problems with the forecast of rising homeownership. First, the student debt hangover will prevent many young adults from qualifying for a mortgage. Second, their wealth drained by helping grown children pay for college and living expenses, older generations won't have the money to help those children with down payments. Third, the desire of boomers to downsize (and the necessity to do so as they retire) will make housing a buyers market for years to come. 

Even if everything unfolds as the report predicts, the housing recovery will be uneven. Leading the recovery will be urban and semi-urban Resilient Walkable communities with local amenities, says the Demand Institute. Lagging the recovery will be Weighed Down areas such as the outer suburbs of major metropolitan areas. 

Source: Demand Institute, The Shifting Nature of U.S. Housing Demand

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just Getting By

The top financial priority of the nation's workers is "just getting by," according to the 13th annual retirement survey by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Each year Transamerica surveys workers about their retirement plans, attitudes, and readiness. In 2012, the largest share of workers--26 percent--said their top financial priority was just getting by. An additional 25 percent of workers said their top priority was paying off debt.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Cost of Food

Are Americans fat because healthy food is more costly than unhealthy food and they're trying to save money? That's the theory. But an impressive analysis of the cost of 4,439 food items by the USDA Economic Research Service disproves the theory.

The USDA researchers examined the cost of thousands of foods in three different ways: by their price per calorie, their price per edible gram, and their price per average portion consumed. The typical way to compare food prices is per calorie. But this methodology is flawed because low-calorie items, such as vegetables and coffee, appear to cost more than high-calorie items such as ice cream and soda. Comparing the cost per average portion consumed changes the equation. Coffee, for example, is one of the most expensive items when measured by price per calorie with a rank of 4,321 out of 4,439 (the higher the number the more expensive the item). By this measure, coffee is much more expensive than regular soda (with a rank of 1,542). But when measured by price per average portion consumed, coffee is one of the cheaper items, with a rank of 231 versus 1,791 for soda.

The USDA report details many more of these reversals, concluding that healthy food is not more expensive than unhealthy food. Food cost is not excuse for Americans' weight problem.

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pet Spending Decline Has Begun

A recent AP article noted that boomers will be less likely to own pets as they get older, which could lead to a decline in spending on pets. In fact, the decline has already begun. The average household spent $480 on pets in 2010, down from $552 in 2009--a 13 percent decline, after adjusting for inflation.

Households cut their spending on every pet category, including food (down 4 percent), supplies and medicines (also down 4 percent), and services (down 12 percent). Average household spending on veterinary service fell the most, a 32 percent decline in just one year.

Pet ownership costs have grown enormously in the past decade as the medical and pharmaceutical industries made inroads into pet care. Average household spending on pets more than doubled between 2000 and 2009. Consumers are tapped out.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Surveys

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Non-Hispanic Whites by Age

A look at the non-Hispanic white share of the population by single year of age reveals the dramatic change in the demographic composition of the American population over the past century. According to the Census Bureau's 2011 population estimates, non-Hispanic whites account for...

at least 80 percent of people aged 79 or older
70 to 80 percent of people aged 52 to 78
60 to 70 percent of people aged 40 to 51
50 to 60 percent of people aged 2 to 39
less than 50 percent of people aged 0 and 1

Source: Census Bureau, Population Estimates

The Minority Majority Has Arrived

The first cohorts of Americans in which minorities are the majority have appeared on the scene, according to the Census Bureau's 2011 estimates of the population by age, race, and Hispanic origin. Among the nation's infants and one-year-olds, non-Hispanic whites are less than half the population, marking a symbolic turning point in the nation's identity.

The Census Bureau's 2011 population estimates, released early this morning, show that fewer than 50 percent of children under age 2 are non-Hispanic white. By single year of age, the non-Hispanic white share of the population ranges from a high of 85.7 percent among 93-year-olds to a low of 49.6 percent among infants under age 1. More than one in four infants (26 percent) are Hispanic, 19 percent are black (alone or in combination) and 7 percent are Asian (alone or in combination). Overall, 63.4 percent of the U.S. population was non-Hispanic white on July 1, 2011, down from 63.8 percent one year earlier.

The Census Bureau reports that non-Hispanic whites now account for fewer than half of births, which is why the nation's youngest children are now minority majority. Between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011, non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of the 4,008,000 babies born that year.

Source: Census Bureau, Population Estimates

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Education Adds Years to Life

The higher your educational attainment the greater your life expectancy, according to the new edition of Health, United States, which includes a special feature on socioeconomic status and health.

Among men aged 25, those without a high school diploma can expect to live 47 more years. Those with a bachelor's degree have a life expectancy of 56 additional years--a 9.3 year gap. Educational attainment boosts women's life expectancy too. Among women aged 25 without a high school diploma, life expectancy is 52 more years. Among their peers with a bachelor's degree, life expectancy is another 60 years--an 8.6 year gap.

Over the past decade, the gap in the life expectancy of high school dropouts and college graduates has grown by 1.9 years among men and 2.8 years among women.

Source: Health, United States, 2011

Big Decline in Survey Participation

This is trouble: it is becoming increasingly difficult to get Americans to respond to surveys. Without the cooperation of the public, survey results are likely to be skewed. The Pew Research Center provides a detailed analysis of the problem in the report Assessing the Representativeness of Public Opinion Surveys.

In 1997, the response rate to surveys was 36 percent. Back then, survey organizations were able to contact a potential respondent in 90 percent of the households called. Among those contacted, 43 percent agreed to be surveyed, for a response rate of 36 percent.

In 2012, the response rate to surveys has dropped to just 9 percent. This happened for two reasons. First, contacting potential respondents is much more difficult because most households screen their calls. Survey organizations now manage to contact potential respondents in only 62 percent of households. Second, fewer potential respondents are willing to participate. Only 14 percent of those contacted now agree to take part in surveys, resulting in the response rate of 9 percent.

The response rate is abysmally low whether a household is contacted by landline or cell phone.

But, says Pew: "Despite declining response rates, telephone surveys that include landlines and cell phones and are weighted to match the demographic composition of the population continue to provide accurate data on most political, social and economic measures."

How does Pew know this? By comparing answers to test survey questions with answers from surveys fielded by the federal government. Large federal surveys get response rates of 75 percent or more. Federal surveys get much higher response rates because of the effort (and dollars) spent doing so, as well as the fact that households are required to participate in many government surveys--such as the American Community Survey. The ACS is the source of demographic and socioeconomic data for the nation, states, metropolitan areas, and local communities. Too bad the House of Representatives voted last week to cut funding for the American Community Survey and make participation voluntary.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spending: Under Age 25

The five items on which householders under age 25 spend the most...

  1. Rent
  2. Groceries
  3. Social Security payroll taxes
  4. Education
  5. Used vehicles

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey

Mass Delusion Led to Housing Bubble

The foreclosure crisis was caused by mass delusion, concludes a new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The mass delusion was the belief that house prices would continue to rise at a rapid pace. After laying out 12 facts about the mortgage market and dismissing current theories about what caused the foreclosure crisis--such as asymmetric information (sellers knowing more than buyers) and financial innovation--the study concludes that a "massive and unsustainable price bubble in the U.S. housing market caused the financial crisis."

In hindsight, the mass delusion is obvious. During the bubble, economists gave little weight to any scenario in which house prices declined. The meltdown scenario was assigned only a 5 percent probability. The highest probabilities were assigned to scenarios that assumed an 8 percent annual growth rate in prices. "These optimistic price expectations encouraged buyers to offer high prices for houses, making the optimistic price expectations self-fulfilling--the hallmark of an asset bubble."

The unanswered question, the authors note, is "why this bubble occurred in the 2000s and not some other time...For now, we have no choice but to plead ignorance, and we believe that all honest economists should do the same." Demographers may have the answer: In the 2000s, the large baby-boom generation was aging into the peak years of homeownership, creating buyer frenzy. The rest is history.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Why Did So Many People Make So Many Ex Post Bad Decisions: The Causes of the Foreclosure Crisis

Monday, May 14, 2012

Recent College Graduates: How Are They Doing?

So how are recent college graduates faring in the labor market? The results of a new Heldrich Center survey are not reassuring.

Among young adults who graduated from college between 2006 and 2011, only 51 percent are currently working full-time. Another 20 percent are in grad school. Among those with full-time jobs, their median salary is $32,000. The 52 percent  majority is being paid by the hour, and 43 percent say their job does not require a four-year college degree.

If you think that's bad, read on.

At graduation, the 55 percent majority of students were in debt, owing a median of $20,000. Only 13 percent of recent graduates with debt had entirely paid off their loans. A much larger 28 percent had made no progress on their loans. Among young adults in graduate school, the situation was worse. They owed a median of $30,000 in student loans, and 62 percent had paid down none of their debt.

Debt is transforming the lives of young adults. Among recent college graduates with debt, 40 percent say they have delayed a major purchase such as a car or house. A hefty 27 percent have had to move in with parents or other family members to save money.

When asked whether there is anything about their college education that they would have done differently given what they know today, the largest share--37 percent--of recent college graduates say they would have been more careful about selecting their college major. Only 3 percent say they would not have gone to college.

Source: Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University, Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Working Mothers

Most women with children under age 18 are in the labor force. Here are their labor force participation rates by age of youngest child...

With children under age 1: 56%
With children under age 6: 64%
With children under age 18: 71%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Characteristics of Families, 2011

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Who Doesn't Want to be Rich?

Surprisingly, not everyone wants to be rich. According to a Gallup survey, 35 percent of Americans say, if they had their choice, they would not want to be rich. Here are the percentages who don't want to be rich by age...

18-29: 35%
30-49: 27%
50-64: 36%
65-plus: 48%

Source: Gallup, Americans Like Having a Rich Class, as They Did 22 Years Ago

Friday, May 11, 2012

Economic Mobility by State

If you want to get ahead, some states are better than others. That's the finding of Pew's Economic Mobility Project, which has for the first time measured economic mobility by state. To gauge economic mobility, the study examined the earnings growth of Americans born between 1943 and 1958 as they aged through their prime working years--from 35-to-39 to 45-to-49. Here are the states in which economic mobility is statistically different from the national average:

Economic mobility better than average: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Utah.

Economic mobility worse than average: Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas.

Source: Pew Center on the States, Economic Mobility of the States

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Early Claiming of Social Security

The percentage of Americans who claimed their Social Security benefits early (age 62) increased by 5 percentage points because of the high unemployment of the Great Recession, finds the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Among those newly eligible, an estimated 46 percent claimed their benefits early--up from the 41 percent who would have claimed early if unemployment rates had been similar to those of previous recessions.

Source: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Great Recession-Induced Early Claimers: Who Are They? How Much Do They Lose?

Youth Underemployment

Nearly one in three (32%) Americans aged 18 to 29 is underemployed, according to a Gallup survey--meaning they are unemployed or part timers who want full-time work. Among people aged 30 or older, the rate of underemployment is a much smaller 13 to 14 percent.

Source: Gallup, One in Three Young U.S. Workers Are Underemployed

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Deteriorating Access to Health Care

Americans' access to medical care has deteriorated significantly during the past decade, reports the Urban Institute in a new study. Among adults aged 19 to 64, access to care fell in most states between 2000 and 2010. The percentage with unmet health care needs due to cost increased in 42 states during those years. The percentage who received a routine checkup fell in 37 states, and the percentage with a dental visit fell in 29 states. Access to care was much lower and the deterioration in access was much greater for the uninsured.

In the U.S. as a whole, 11 percent of insured adults aged 19 to 64 had unmet medical needs due to cost in 2010. This compares with a much larger 48 percent of the uninsured. Among insured adults, 70 percent had a routine checkup in 2010 versus only 38 percent of the uninsured. Fully 72.3 percent of the insured had a dental visit in 2010 compared with just 37.5 percent of the uninsured. The report details the percentages by state and how they have changed since 2000.

Source: Urban Institute, Virtually Every State Experienced Deteriorating Access to Care for Adults over the Past Decade

Support for Gay Marriage

The 52 percent majority of the public now supports the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry. Here is the percentage in support by age...

18-39: 61%
40-64: 50%
65-plus: 40%

Source: Washington Post, The Washington Post--ABC News Poll

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Are Millennials a Lost Generation?

It is an exaggeration to say Millennials are a lost generation. But there is a large segment of Millennials--perhaps even the majority--who missed out on something important when they were growing up. That something is programming literacy, now as critical for success in the job market as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Millennials are the first generation to grow up with the Internet. Most are comfortable with Facebook, Twitter, texting, browsing, streaming videos, downloading audios, and shopping online. They are adept at consuming what the Internet has to offer. They are not skilled at producing for the Internet, which is what employers of all sorts now want. To be successful in today's economy, young workers need to know how to build and maintain web sites, how to market products and services through social networks, how to write and edit code. They need to be literate in the theory and practice of programming.

Millennials know they lack these skills. In the American Freshman Survey, UCLA's annual probe into the attitudes of college freshmen nationwide, only 38 percent of freshmen say their computer skills are above average. This is a surprisingly honest assessment from these young adults, 71 percent of whom think they are above average in academic ability and 73 percent of whom think they are above average in their drive to achieve.

How did Millennials miss out on acquiring literacy in programming while surrounded by computers and the Internet? They had the bad luck to be born at the wrong time, raised by parents and taught by teachers who at best knew little about computers and the Internet and at worst were dismissive and fearful of their capabilities. The computer illiterate older generation was incapable of instilling in today's young adults a literacy in programming.   

It doesn't have to be this way. Millennials can acquire literacy, even at this late date. According to the New York Times, when the organization Fix Young America held a summit recently to discuss solutions to high levels of unemployment among young adults, one of the proposals was a massive, nationwide effort to teach young adults JavaScript, a programming language.

Spending Decline in Retirement

As people transition into retirement, their spending declines. By examining the Consumer Expenditure Survey over time, the size of the decline can be estimated. In 2010, householders aged 65 to 74 spent $41,434--considerably less than the $49,816 householders aged 55 to 64 spent in 2000 (in 2010 dollars). As households transition from one age group into another, household spending declines by 17 percent.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Surveys

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Pluralist Generation

The naming of generations is the sport of marketers. It is also serious business, not just for companies looking for customers but for the rest of us as well. A generation's name is an attempt to identify the shared characteristics of a group of people. By naming the generations, we get a better sense of the chaotic jumble of 300-million-plus diverse and individualistic Americans.

The youngest Americans--the current crop of children--have been a generation looking for a name. There have been lazy attempts to name them, such as "Generation Z." And there have been more serious attempts, such as the iGeneration, so dubbed by demographic reference publisher New Strategist Publications. Now, the market research firm Magid Generational Strategies has added muscle to the naming business. Magid surveyed children and their parents, people ranging in age from 8 to 66, then pondered the findings. The result is a new name for the youngest Americans: The Pluralist Generation, but you can call them Plurals.

Plurals are today's 67 million children aged 15 or younger in 2012--born in 1997 or later. Only 55 percent are non-Hispanic white, making them the last generation with a non-Hispanic white majority. "This unprecedented transition to a multicultural, pluralistic society will be a major aspect of their lives," says Magid in its press release announcing the name. The pluralistic features of the society in which today's children are growing up extend from race and ethnicity to sex roles, sexual orientation, religion, family life, communication, politics, and media. The Plurals, says Magid, are the children of Gen Xers and reflect Gen X's different parenting style, which is more individualistic than group-oriented Boomers who raised Millennials. Reports Magid: "Those differences will only increase over time and solidify a new mindset separating Plurals from Millennials."

To download Magid's free white paper about the Plurals, click here.
Source: Magid Generational Strategies, The First Generation of the Twenty-First Century--An Introduction to The Pluralist Generation

The Decline of Churn

Most hiring is the result of churn--the replacement of departing workers with new ones--rather than firm expansion or contraction. During the Great Recession, churn fell significantly as workers clung to their jobs, according to a new NBER study. In fact, four-fifths of the decline in hiring during the Great Recession was due to the decline of churn.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Hiring, Churn and the Business Cycle, Working Paper #17910 ($5)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Defining The Ages

If middle age is the age at which you have lived half your expected life, then middle age occurs at 40. If old age is the age at which you have ten more years of expected life, then old age occurs at 78.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Mortality Data

Saturday, May 05, 2012

What Do Demographers Want?

They want to play with numbers. When demographers were asked in a recent survey what they enjoy most about their profession, the largest share and 59 percent majority said they enjoy data analysis more than any other professional activity. "Indeed, the intrinsic joy of collecting and analyzing data is high on the scorecard of demographers," according to Hendrik P. van Dalen and Kene Henkens in their paper, "What Is on a Demographers' Mind? A Worldwide Survey," published in the journal Demographic Research.

The authors know what demographers want because they asked them. They surveyed 970 demographers worldwide in 2009 about a range of topics. Interestingly, the paper includes a comparison of the academic values of PhD students in demography with the values of their counterparts in economics, finding the two groups to be "complete antipodes." When asked what factors are most important for success in their field, 74 percent of demographers (but only 30 percent of economists) cite "being good at empirical research." Fully 64 percent of demographers (but only 9 percent of economists) say "knowing population or economic facts." The majority of PhD students in economics say knowing the facts is unimportant. To most PhD students in economics, the key to success is "being good at solving mathematical puzzles."

Economists may be good at solving puzzles, but not real world problems. Yet they still have the ear of the nation's policymakers. Perhaps because demographers so rarely lift their heads out of their sandbox of statistics, economists get all the attention. For demography to assume its proper role as a science, says demographer Dominique Tabutin (cited in the survey paper), it must strengthen its identity, its social and political utility, and its public visibility.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Brace Yourself

Let's connect the dots between unemployment, retirement, and the future of consumer spending.

Unemployment In April, the unemployment rate fell slightly (to 8.1 percent), despite weak job growth (a gain of 115,000 jobs). Unemployment fell because hundreds of thousands of people dropped out of the labor force.

Retirement The labor force is shrinking in part because the large baby-boom generation is beginning to retire en masse. As noted previously in this blog, 45 percent of the oldest boomers (who turned 65 in 2011) are fully retired, according to a MetLife study. Yes, boomers say they are going to postpone retirement, but not for long according to a University of Michigan study. The Michigan study examined how the Great Recession affected the retirement plans of Americans aged 50 or older. The results show that the average household headed by an older American lost 5 percent of its wealth between 2008 and 2009. This should result in an additional 3.7 to 5.0 additional years of work to make up for the loss. Instead, those postponing retirement are planning to work only for an additional 1.6 years, live on less, and leave less for their heirs.

Spending The baby-boom's retirement will dampen consumer spending for years to come and will reduce the wealth of younger generations, who will inherit less.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Letting the Old Decide

Percentage of Americans who are registered to vote and say they definitely will vote in the 2012 presidential election:

Aged 18 to 29: 34%
Aged 65 or older: 79%

Source: Gallup, Young Voters Back Obama, but Many Aren't Poised to Vote

Entrepreneurship Declines

This isn't rocket science. In a nation that seems hell bent on making it difficult if not impossible for individuals to buy health insurance, entrepreneurship is nearly extinct.

According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, only 0.32 percent of adults started a business in 2011, down 5.9 percent from the level of 2010. Demographically speaking, the entrepreneurs of today have nothing left to lose. By educational level, high school dropouts are most likely to start a business. Least likely: college graduates.

Source: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

How Many Have Pre-Existing Conditions?

Most of us. Depending on how pre-existing conditions are defined, as many as 122 million adults aged 19 to 64 have a health condition that can limit their access to the private health insurance market, according to a GAO report. That's 66 percent of the working-age population.

Today, in most states, private health insurers can deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. The Affordable Care Act will eliminate this problem beginning in 2014 by requiring health insurance companies to cover everyone regardless of health status. Only five states now offer this kind of protection to their residents: Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. Everywhere else, you're on your own.

Who is most at risk in this Wild West health insurance saloon? All of us. Among people aged 19 to 64, the GAO reports that pre-existing conditions can be found in as many as...

  • 72% of women
  • 59% of men
  • 84% of 55-to-64-year-olds, 74% of 45-to-54-year-olds, 65% of 35-to-44-year-olds, 55% of 25-to-34-year-olds, and 45% of 19-to-24-year-olds
  • 72% of non-Hispanic whites, 59% of blacks, and 51% of Hispanics 

Source: GAO, Private Health Insurance: Estimates of Individuals with Pre-Existing Conditions Range from 36 million to 122 million

Working Parents

Percentage of married couples with children under age 18 by employment status of parents...

Both parents employed: 58%
Father only employed: 30%
Mother only employed: 7%
Neither parent employed: 4%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Characteristics of Families, 2011

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Household Income Stable in March

Median household income was about the same in March 2012 as in the previous month, according to the latest monthly update from Sentier Research. The March median of $50,612 was 0.3 percent higher than the February 2012 median ($50,445), after adjusting for inflation. The change  was not statistically significant.  

The March median was 5.4 percent lower than median household income in June 2009--the supposed end of the Great Recession. It was 7.8 percent lower than the median in December 2007, the start of the Great Recession. It was 8.7 percent lower than the median in January 2000. The Household Income Index for March 2012 was 91.3 (January 2000 = 100.0).

Source: Sentier Research, Household Income Trends: March 2012 

Health Insurance: Workers Aged 18 to 64

Among all wage-and-salary workers aged 18 to 64 in 2010, three out of four (77 percent) worked for an employer who sponsored a health insurance plan. Here are the percentages of workers whose employer sponsors a plan by age...

Aged 18-20: 48%
Aged 21-24: 61%
Aged 25-34: 76%
Aged 35-44: 79%
Aged 45-54: 83%
Aged 55-64: 84%

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute,  Employment-Based Health Benefits: Trends in Access and Coverage, 1997-2010