Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas Spending

On average, Americans say they will personally spend $704 on Christmas gifts this year, according to a Gallup survey, down from the $770 they spent in 2012.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Frequency of Family Dinners

Among Americans who live with at least one other family member, 86 percent say they sit down together for a family dinner at least once a week. The 58 percent majority do so at least four nights a week. By generation, the proportion of families who have dinner together at least four times a week looks like this…

Millennials: 52%
Gen Xers: 50%
Boomers: 62%
Older: 81%

Most Americans believe their family today has fewer family dinners than they did when they were growing up, with 55 to 60 percent of each generation feeling that way.

Source: Harris Interactive, Are Americans Still Serving Up Family Dinners?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Popular Vegetables

The five most popular vegetables in the United States are…

1. Tomatoes
2. Potatoes
3. Sweet corn
4. Onions
5. Head lettuce

French fries and pizza elevate tomatoes and potatoes to the top of the list, reports the USDA's Economic Research Service

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Old Would Be Poor without Social Security

Only 9.1 percent of Americans aged 65 or older are poor—a lower poverty rate than in any other age group. Without Social Security, however, the poverty rate of people aged 65 or older would rise to 54.7 percent, according to the Census Bureau's 2012 supplemental poverty measure research.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Live Arts Attendance Falls—Maybe

Are the live arts in decline, or is the latest survey by the National Endowment for the Arts simply picking up on changes in arts preferences? The 2012 survey of arts participation reveals what may be a worrisome decline in attendance at live arts events, or it may reveal nothing more than shifting tastes.

Only 33 percent of adults attended at least one live arts performance in 2012, reports the NEA. This figure—the lowest ever recorded—was down from 35 percent in 2008 and a high of 41 percent in 1992. But the NEA counts only attendance at performances of classical music, opera, jazz, ballet, musical and non-musical plays, and visits to art museums and galleries. Rock concerts do not count, for example, and as musical tastes have shifted over the decades this omission may be wrongly skewing participation rates downward. Newly added to the survey in 2012 is a question about attendance at any live music performance. Over time, the answer to that question will help determine whether the live arts are in decline or preferences are simply shifting. Thirty-two percent of adults reported attending any live music event in 2012, with the percentage peaking at 41 percent among 18-to-24-year-olds.

Not all arts audiences are small or shrinking. The percentage of adults who went out to a movie grew from 53 to 59 percent between 2008 and 2012. The percentage who read at least one book for personal interest held steady at about 54 percent. Fully 71 percent of adults consumed art through electronic media such as television, radio, or the Internet.

Source: National Endowment for the Arts, How a Nation Engages with Art

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering Kennedy

Percentage of Americans who are too young to remember the Kennedy assassination: 75%.

Source: Calculation based on estimated number of Americans under age 56 in 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Another Stupid Survey

So Gallup reports that the 56 percent majority of Americans think it is not the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that all Americans have health care coverage. What a meaningless number. To understand attitudes toward health insurance, responses must be broken down by age because age—in particular the age of 65—separates the haves from the have-nots.

It's a good bet that most Americans under age 65 think the federal government should ensure health care coverage for all Americans. And it's a good bet that Americans aged 65 or older, comfortably covered by the federal government's Medicare program, are the ones so dead set against it. Let's see the numbers.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Economic Security Improves in 2012

The latest Economic Security Index shows household economic security making gains in 2012. The percentage of households that lost at least one-quarter of their income in 2012 fell slightly, to 17.8 percent. This figure is down from 18.9 percent in 2011 and the record high of 20.5 percent in 2009.

On the Economic Security Index web site, you can compare states, examine trends over the past quarter century, and download reports for individual states.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Homeowner Mobility Rises

For the first time since the Great Recession, the mobility rate of homeowners increased, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau. Between March 2012 and March 2013, an estimated 5.2 percent of people who live in owner-occuped homes moved, up from the record low of 4.7 percent in 2011-12. The number of homeowners who moved grew by 759,000 between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Although the mobility rate of homeowners is rising, it remains well below the 8 to 9 percent that was typical in the 1980s and 1990s.

Renters accounted for the 71 percent majority of movers between March 2012 and March 2013. In contrast to the rise in the homeowner mobility rate, the renter mobility rate fell to 24.9 percent in 2012-13, down from the 26.7 percent of 2011-12. Before the Great Recession, the renter mobility rate typically exceeded 30 percent.

Mobility rate by housing tenure, 2012-13
In owner-occupied housing: 5.2%
In renter-occupied housing: 24.9%

Source: Census Bureau, Geographical Mobility: 2012 to 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mobility Rate Falls Again

Fewer Americans moved in 2012-13 than in 2011-12, and the mobility rate also fell. With the housing market awaiting the return of the mobile American, the numbers released by the Census Bureau today are not good news.

Only 11.7 percent of people aged 1 or older moved between March 2012 and March 2013, a mobility rate that is close to the all-time low of 11.6 percent recorded in 2010-11 and below the 12.0 percent of 2011-12. The number of people who moved fell by 430,000 between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Here are geographical mobility rates since 2006-07, before the start of the Great Recession…

2012-13: 11.7%
2011-12: 12.0%
2010-11: 11.6%
2009-10: 12.5%
2008-09: 12.5%
2007-08: 11.9%
2006-07: 13.2%

Source: Census Bureau, Geographical Mobility: 2012 to 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Retirement Plan Participation, 2012

Among all wage and salary workers aged 21 to 64, only 53 percent work for an employer who sponsors a retirement plan and just 44 percent participate in the plan.

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute, Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation: Geographic Differences and Trends, 2012

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Housing: Before and After the Great Recession

It's hard to summarize the contradictory trends contained in the Census Bureau's report, Home Value and Homeownership Rates: Recession and Post-Recession Comparisons from 2007-2009 to 2010-2012. The report is one of the first with three-year estimates and comparisons from the American Community Survey, which replaced the census "long form" and provides demographic and socioeconomic data for small geographic areas.

At first glance, the report seems to show that the Great Recession and the collapse of the housing market passed millions of Americans by without creating so much as a statistical ripple. For example, in the great majority of the nation's smaller counties (the 1,038 counties with populations of 20,000 to 65,000), the bureau found no statistically significant change in median home value or homeownership rate between 2007-2009 and 2010-2012. Only 12 percent of American live in those smaller counties, however, making their stability a minority perspective.

In the 50 most populous counties, the story is different—median home values fell in most areas and the homeownership rate took a hit in all of them, the bureau reports. A larger 30 percent of Americans live in these counties, and their struggles are well known. The collapse of the housing bubble is readily apparent in the steep decline in median housing value in Contra Costa County, California (San Francisco), where median value fell by a stunning $141,500. Declines topping $100,000 also occurred in Los Angeles County and Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas), among others. Even so, among the 50 largest counties a few saw home values rise even during the darkest days of the Great Recession. Median home value grew in Bexar and Travis counties in Texas (San Antonio and Austin) and Allegheny County in Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh).

Perhaps the report's ultimate meaning can be summed up by the old real estate axiom: location, location, location.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Changes in Household Energy Consumption

Heating and cooling account for a shrinking share of household energy consumption, according to an analysis of the most recent Residential Energy Consumption Survey data by the Energy Information Administration. Only 48 percent of the energy consumed by the average American household in 2009 was used for heating and cooling, down from 58 percent in 1993. Behind the decline is more efficient heating and cooling equipment, as well as better insulated homes, more efficient windows, and migration to the Sunbelt.

Water heating accounts for 18 percent of home energy consumption, a share that has not changed over the decades. The big increase in household energy consumption has occurred in the category appliances, electronics, and lighting. Thirty-five percent of household energy consumption is devoted to keeping computers, televisions, refrigerators and the like up and running. This figure was just 24 percent in 1993.

Source: Energy Information Administration, Heating and Cooling No Longer Majority of U.S. Home Energy Use

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Low Wage Workers Look Back at Better Days

A survey of low-wage workers reveals that the 52 percent majority made more money at their previous job. Low-wage workers are defined as those employed and making $14/hour or less, or the unemployed who made $14/hour or less at their last job.

Among low-wage workers, older men are most likely to report having made more at their previous job. Fully 60 percent of men aged 50 or older earning low wages say they used to make more money.

Source: Oxfam America, Hard Work, Hard Lives: America's Low-Wage Workers

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Future of the Rental Market

The inventory of rental housing is expanding, according to an annual status report on the nation's housing market, but not because developers are jumping on the bandwagon. New construction of rental units remains well below the annual averages of the past two decades.

Rental inventory is expanding because single-family homes are being converted from owner- to renter-occupied, according to The State of the Nation's Housing 2013. Between 2009 and 2011, this type of conversion added more than 1 million single-family homes to the rental stock. "Small investors and local property owners continue to own the vast majority of the nearly 14 million single-family rentals nationwide," notes the report. "But since 2011, large investment pools have acquired single-family homes on an unprecedented scale with the intention of managing the properties as rentals."

The outsized growth of the rental market over the past few years won't last forever, and the report describes a possible future scenario: "As the homeownership market recovers, renter household growth will very likely slow and rental markets will have to adjust accordingly. Since much of the increased demand for rental housing has been satisfied by the expanded supply of single-family rentals, future market adjustments may come from a return of these units to owner-occupancy."

Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, The State of the Nation's Housing 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

South Opposes Gay Marriage

The 52 percent majority of Americans support gay marriage, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. But support varies by region…

Percent who favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally
62% in the Northeast
58% in the West
53% in the Midwest
43% in the South

Friday, November 08, 2013

Household Income Stable in September 2013

Median annual household income was stable in September 2013, according to the latest monthly update from Sentier Research. The September median of $52,529 was not statistically different from the August median, after adjusting for inflation.  

Sentier has detected "an uneven but upward trend" in income since August 2011, when median household income fell to its low point of $50,940 (in 2013 dollars). The September median was 3.1 percent higher than the August 2011 median, after adjusting for inflation. "We still have a significant amount of ground to make up to get back to where we were before," cautions Sentier's Gordon Green, "but at least we now appear to be heading in the right direction." 

Median household income in September 2013 was 4.0 percent below the median of June 2009, the end of the Great Recession. It was 5.7 percent lower than the median in December 2007, the start of the Great Recession. It was 6.8 percent lower than the median in January 2000. The Household Income Index for September 2013 was 93.2 (January 2000 = 100.0). The index compares median annual household income in a given month as a percent of its value in January 2000, after adjusting for inflation. An Excel spreadsheet of the entire household income time series is available from Sentier's web site for $25.00.

Source: Sentier Research, Household Income Trends Series: September 2013

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Homeownership Falls among Retiring Boomers

It's time for another look at changes in homeownership by birth cohort. By comparing homeownership rates for five-year age groups in the third quarter of 2013 with those in the third quarter of 2008, cohort decisions regarding homeownership can be teased out of Census Bureau data.

Such a comparison reveals the expected rise in homeownership among young adults as they age into their thirties and early forties. Cohort homeownership rates decline slightly (by 0.4 to 0.9 percentage points) as householders age into their late forties and fifties. The largest and most surprising decline in homeownership rate by cohort is among householders aged 60 to 64—retiring baby boomers.  

In the third quarter of 2013, only 76.8 percent of householders aged 60 to 64 owned their home. Five years earlier when this cohort was aged 55 to 59, their homeownership rate was a larger 79.3 percent. Between 2008 and 2013, the homeownership rate of the cohort (boomers born between 1949 and 1953) fell by a substantial 2.5 percentage points.

Homeownership rates by five-year age group have been calculated by the Census Bureau since 1982. In 2012, for the first time, the 78.6 percent homeownership rate of 60-to-64-year olds fell below what would round to 80 percent. The 2013 data show the downward trend picking up speed as boomers make decisions about their retirement years. In a MacArthur Foundation study released earlier this year, a substantial 49 percent of homeowners aged 50 to 64 said they would be willing to consider renting in the future. Maybe that explains the homeownership decline.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Why Don't Hispanics Vote?

The large and rapidly growing Hispanic population has the potential to upend the nation's politics. But so far Hispanics have failed to live up to the potential. In the 2012 presidential election, only 48 percent of Hispanic citizens went to the polls, according to Census Bureau voter data. This compares with a voting rate of 66 percent for blacks and 64 percent for non-Hispanic whites.

Why don't Hispanics vote? That question has an answer. After every presidential and congressional election the Census Bureau surveys registered voters and asks why those who did not vote failed to show up at the polls. A look at the answers provided by Hispanics reveals why they are less likely to vote.
  • It's not for lack of interest. Only 15 percent of Hispanic non-voters said they did not vote because they weren't interested versus 16 percent of all non-voters.  
  • It's not because they don't care about the candidates or issues. Only 9 percent of Hispanic non-voters said they did not vote for this reason versus 13 percent of all non-voters. 
  • It might be their jobs. Nearly one in four Hispanic non-voters (23 percent) said they could not get to the polls because they were too busy or had a schedule conflict versus a smaller 19 percent of all non-voters.
A look at the data reveals that adults aged 25 to 44 are most likely say they are too busy to vote. A large share of Hispanics are in that age group and many toil long hours in low-wage jobs, making work schedules a bigger obstacle for the potential Hispanic voter.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

First-Time Homebuyer Watch: 3rd Quarter 2013

Homeownership rate of householders aged 30 to 34, third quarter 2013: 47.5%

The homeownership rate of householders aged 30 to 34 fell by 0.9 percentage points between the second and third quarters of 2013, to 47.5 percent. Although the homeownership rate of the age group has recovered from the all-time low of 46.9 percent recorded in the third quarter of 2012, it is well below the 50 percent mark that defines first-time homebuyers, and the trend for the age group is downward.

In the new normal, the typical first-time homebuyer is a middle-aged 35-to-39-year-old rather than a young adult. In the third quarter of 2013, the homeownership rate of 35-to-39-year-olds was 56.0 percent. This was 1.2 percentage points lower than one year ago but the highest rate recorded this year. Prior to the Great Recession, the homeownership rate of 35-to-39-year-olds exceeded 66 percent.

Nationally, the homeownership rate was 65.3 percent in the third quarter of 2013, slightly higher than the 65.0 percent in the first and second quarters of 2013 but 0.2 percentage points below the 65.5 percent of one year ago.

Source: Census Bureau, Housing Vacancy Survey

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Flaw in Labor Force Data

There's a flaw in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' new report, Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2012 (PDF). The same flaw occurs in most labor force statistics produced by the BLS—the failure to distinguish "non-Hispanic whites" from the "white" racial category. By not making this distinction, a serious analysis of labor force characteristics by race and Hispanic origin is impossible.

Because Hispanics may be of any race and most (89 percent) are white, lumping Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites together distorts the picture. This wouldn't matter so much if white Hispanics were a tiny fraction of all whites in the labor force, but they are a substantial 18 percent. The BLS report states, for example, that "whites make up the majority of the labor force in 2012 (80 percent)." But if you subtract Hispanic whites from total whites, you discover that non-Hispanic whites are a much smaller 66 percent of the labor force—a more interesting and useful perspective on the American labor force.

Lumping Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites together also would not matter if workers were similar, but they are polar opposites. Non-Hispanic whites are one of the best-educated segments of the labor force while Hispanics are the least educated. Non-Hispanic whites are some of the workers most likely to be managers or professionals while Hispanics are least likely. Non-Hispanic whites have some of the highest wages while Hispanics have the lowest wages. By lumping them into one category, what could have been an interesting comparison of workers becomes a muddled mess.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Most Know They Have High Blood Pressure

How many Americans have high blood pressure but don't know it? Not that many, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. By actually measuring the blood pressure of a representative sample of Americans and asking them whether they have high blood pressure, the CDC was able to determine not only the prevalence of hypertension but also awareness of the problem among those with the condition.

The 2011-12 survey results show that 29 percent of Americans aged 18 or older have high blood pressure. Among those with high blood pressure, 83 percent are aware of it, 76 percent take medication to lower it, and 52 percent have it under control.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Curse of the First Born

If you are a first born, you probably think your younger brothers and sisters got away with everything. They did. That's the finding of a National Bureau of Economic Research study that examines why first-born children, on average, do better in school than their younger siblings.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the NBER researchers find "robust empirical evidence" that school performance declines with birth order—and so does parental discipline. First borns tend to do better in school because their parents demand it, say the researchers. Later-born children don't do as well because parents slack off, hoping their effort with the first born rubs off on younger siblings. Apparently it doesn't.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Strategic Parenting, Birth Order and School Performance, NBER Working Paper 19542 ($5)