Monday, December 21, 2020

Happy Holidays!

 Demo Memo is taking a holiday break. See you on January 4, 2021. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

2020 Comes to a Close

The year 2020 is coming to a close. Although this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year is almost over, it will live in infamy as historians examine the many ways the pandemic has pummeled us. One of the best resources historians will have is the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. Since late April, the bureau has surveyed households every week or two, probing the impact of the pandemic on Americans' wellbeing. Here are some of the latest findings, collected November 25-December 7.

Children's lives have been upended. Among adults in households with children in public or private school, 89 percent report that their child's classes in the 2020–21 school year are in a distance learning format.

College plans have been cancelled. Among adults in households where at least one adult was planning on taking postsecondary classes this fall, more than one-third cancelled their plans to take classes. 

Nearly half of Americans have lost money. Fully 48 percent of people aged 18 or older report that they or someone in their household experienced a loss of employment income since March 13, 2020. Thirty-one percent expect to lose employment income in the next four weeks.

Many are hungry. One in eight adults (13 percent) did not have enough to eat sometimes or often in the past seven days. Among adults in households with children, a larger 17 percent did not have enough to eat. 

Many are afraid to go to the doctor. One-third of Americans aged 18 or older have delayed getting medical care in the past four weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Worries about next month's rent. One-third of renters say they have only slight or no confidence in their ability to pay next month's rent. Among renters with children, the figure is 41 percent. 

Paying for usual household expenses is difficult for many. More than one-third of adults say they have found it somewhat or very difficult to pay for usual household expenses in the past seven days.

Restaurants are devastated. The 61 percent majority of Americans have avoided eating at restaurants in the past seven days. 

The year 2020 is coming to a close. Good riddance.

Source: Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, November 25-December 7

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A New Low in Geographic Mobility in 2020: 9.3%

There has been a lot of talk about the numbers of people who have moved because of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a Pew Research Center survey fielded in June, a substantial 22 percent of adults had relocated because of the pandemic or knew someone who had. An Upwork survey fielded in October found 14 to 23 million workers planning to move because remote work gave them the opportunity to live anywhere they choose. Those moves will boost migration in the United States, Upwork said.  

Nice try, but no cigar. Yesterday the Census Bureau released the official numbers on geographic mobility in 2020. The data are collected by the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC). The survey asks respondents, "Were you living in this house or apartment one year ago?" Only 9.3 percent said no—a record low geographic mobility rate.  

Percent of people aged 1 or older who lived in a different house or apartment one year ago
2019–20: 9.3% (record low)

2018–19: 9.8%

2017–18: 10.1%

2010–11: 11.6%

2000–01: 14.2%

There are a couple of reasons why the CPS ASEC did not capture coronavirus-related moves. One reason is timing. The Census Bureau fields the ASEC in March of each year. Perhaps March was too early in the pandemic to capture those moves. The second reason is response rates. In the turmoil during the early weeks of the pandemic, response rates to the March 2020 CPS were abnormally low, according to Census Bureau research. Pandemic movers may have been (almost certainly were) less likely to respond to the survey than those who stayed put. 

For whatever the reason, the geographic mobility figures from the 2020 CPS do not shed any light on pandemic-related moves. This time next year, the 2021 geographic mobility data will be released. Perhaps they will show the anticipated uptick in migration...unless all the pandemic movers return to their pre-pandemic homes by March 2021.

Source: Census Bureau, Geographic Mobility, 2019 to 2020

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Only 19% Answer Cellphone Calls from Unknown Numbers

Only 19 percent of Americans answer their cellphone to see who it is when called by an unknown number, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The 67 percent majority will not answer the phone but will check voicemail if left. A hardened 14 percent not only won't answer the phone, they won't even check any voicemail left by an unknown number. 

Percent who will not answer their cellphone if called by an unknown number
Aged 18 to 29: 74%
Aged 30 to 49: 81%
Aged 50 to 64: 84%
Aged 65-plus: 79%

Monday, December 14, 2020

Obesity Is Rising in Every Age Group

Just ahead of the holiday festivities, the National Center for Health Statistics has issued a report on trends in obesity by age. Do you think this is just a coincidence? Yes, of course it is. Nevertheless, perhaps a review of the trends will rein in the temptation to overindulge in these final days of a difficult year. 

If obesity were a mystery to be solved, then the trends presented by the NCHS report provide an important clue. The clue is this: it's happening across the board. No age group is immune. Obesity is surging among the young, the middle-aged, and the old. Take a look...

Percent obese by age, 1988–94 to 2017–18
        total       20-39   40-59     60-plus
2017-18          42.4%   40.0%    44.8%     42.8%
2007-08          33.7   30.7    36.2     35.1
1999-00          30.5   26.0    33.5     33.5
1988-94          22.9   17.7    27.9     23.7
Note: Obesity is defined as a body mass index at or above 30.0 kg/m²

The data used to calculate these numbers are collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The survey doesn't simply ask Americans how much they weigh—those self-reports would fall far short of reality. NHANES quantifies reality by dispersing mobile examination units around the country, from which trained health technicians measure the height and weight of a representative sample of the public. Over the past three decades, the survey's measurements show a doubling in the percentage of Americans who are obese among 20-to-39-year olds, a 61 percent increase among 40-to-59-year-olds and an 81 percent rise among people aged 60 or older. That's a lot of overindulging.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Seismic Shift in the Publishing Industry

Recent trends in the information publishing industry are not pretty—at least for workers in traditional publishing establishments. In the past four years, the book, magazine, and newspaper industries have shed a combined total of 104,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, jobs in internet publishing have increased by nearly the same amount...

Employment in the publishing industry, 2016 and 2020

   2nd quarter 2020  1st quarter 2016  numerical change percent change
Book        51,450       61,919      -10,469     -16.9%
Periodical        72,648       97,212      -24,564     -25.3%
Newspaper      111,615         180,313      -68,698     -38.1%
Internet      289,794     195,714       94,080       48.1%

Today, the 55 percent majority of publishing jobs are in internet publishing, up from just 37 percent in 2016.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Fewer Households in 2020

The number of households in the United States fell in 2020 for the first time in the history of the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey household series dating back to 1960. The decline was small—a loss of just 128,000 households between March 2019 and March 2020—but even a small decline is significant. It marks the turmoil of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, when many left their homes to join family and friends for what seemed at the time to be a short-lived disruption.

Usually, the number of households in the U.S. grows by more than 1 million a year. That has been the case in 41 of the past 70 years. The largest single-year gain was in 1980, when the number of households surged by 3.4 million. The smallest increase was in 2009—up by just 357,000 in the aftermath of the Great Recession. 

Households did not decline in every demographic segment, of course. Here are the segments with the biggest losses...

Householders under age 30: The number of households headed by people under age 30 fell by more than 1.2 million between 2019 and 2020—an 8 percent decline. Some of the shrinkage can be accounted for by college students living off campus who returned to their parents' home when college classes went online. (Students living in college-owned housing are already counted as living with their parents.) 

Single-person households: The number of people who live alone fell by 281,000 between March 2019 and March 2020. Almost the entire decline occurred among men who live alone, their number falling by 273,000 versus an 8,000 decline for women. Why the difference? Most women who live alone are aged 55 or older. Most men who live alone are under age 55. Because of the age difference, women who live alone are less likely to be college students and less likely than their male counterparts to be hurt by the Covid-19 Recession. 

Asian, Black, and Hispanic households: The number of households headed by Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics fell by a combined 332,000 between March 2019 and March 2020. Asian households saw the largest drop, with 128,000 fewer households in 2020—a 1.8 percent decline. The number of Black households fell by 113,000 and Hispanic households by 91,000. 

Source: Census Bureau, Historical Household Tables

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Not Wearing a Mask? 73% Are Mad at You

Many, many more Americans are angry about people not wearing a mask in public than are upset by stores requiring customers to wear masks, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Fully 73 percent of the public is bothered "a lot" or "some" when people do not wear masks in public places, Pew finds. So, if your goal is to goad, not wearing a mask is a good way to do it. 

Only 28 percent of the public is bothered "a lot" or "some" when stores require customers to wear masks. So, if you're a business trying to decide on the right thing to do, this is a no-brainer.

Percent bothered a lot/some when people around them in public places do not wear masks
Men: 69%
Women: 75%

Asians: 83%
Blacks: 80%
Hispanics: 76%
Non-Hispanic whites: 70%

Aged 18 to 29: 68%
Aged 30 to 49: 70%
Aged 50 to 64: 71%
Aged 65-plus: 81%

Democrats: 87%
Republicans: 55%

Monday, December 07, 2020

Slumping Revenues for Restaurants

The nation's small businesses are feeling the effects of the surge in coronavirus coupled with the onset of winter weather. More than one-third of all small businesses (38 percent) report a decline in operating revenues/sales/receipts in the past 7 days, according to the Small Business Pulse Survey fielded in the last week of November. Hurt the worst are small businesses in the accommodation and food service sector—such as restaurants. As of November 23-29, nearly two out of three (63.6 percent) reported a decline in revenue in the past 7 days.

It has been worse. Back in late April/early May, an even larger 74.6 percent of small businesses in the accommodation and food service sector reported lower revenues in the past 7 days. At the time, many states had ordered mandatory business closures as the first wave of coronavirus hit. Then things got better. Not only did the weather improve, but restaurants learned to adapt by shifting to takeout and offering outdoor dining. The percentage reporting a recent revenue decline fell to a low of 39.7 percent by the end of September. 

Since then, however, a growing share of restaurants and other businesses in the accommodation and food service sector are struggling. The percentage with falling revenues is surging as cold weather and renewed fears of widespread contagion drive customers away. The 63.9 percent reporting a recent revenue decline during the week of November 23-29 is approaching the spring peak. 

Percent of small businesses in the accommodation and food service sector reporting a decline in operating revenue/sales/receipts in the past 7 days, for selected weeks
63.6 percent: November 23-29 (3rd highest)
61.9 percent: November 16-22
50.5 percent: November 9-15
39.7 percent: September 27-October 3 (low point)
69.5 percent: May 3-9 (2nd highest)
74.6 percent: April 26-May 2 (peak)

Source: Census Bureau, Small Business Pulse Survey

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Americans Pull Back on Spending

This year's Black Friday is being called Bleak Friday by some retail analysts, with brick and mortar stores relatively empty and holiday sales below expectations. The number of Black Friday shoppers at retail stores this year was 37 percent below the 2019 level, and holiday spending from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday was 14 percent lower than last year, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal

This underwhelming start to the holiday season was predicted by the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey fielded in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (November 11-23). The survey asked Americans aged 18 or older whether their household spending/shopping behavior had changed in the past seven days. With Covid surging across the country, only 19 percent of the public said they had not changed the way they shopped. Here are some of changes in the shopping behavior of the 81 percent majority...

Changes to spending/shopping behavior in past seven days 
Made more purchases online: 53%
Made more purchases by curbside pickup: 27%
Made more purchases in-store: 8%

Increased use of credit cards or smartphone apps for purchases: 39%
Increased use of cash instead of credit cards or smartphones for purchases: 5%

Avoided eating at restaurants: 58%
Resumed eating at restaurants: 7%

The resurgence of coronavirus could not be happening at a worse time. Holiday spending, on which many businesses depend for the bulk of their revenue, is being constrained by the public's fear of Covid-19. 

Source: Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey Week 19 (November 11–November 23)

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Misperceptions Hamper Planning for Long-Term Care

Nearly half of middle-aged and older Americans believe something that isn't true. No, this story isn't about QAnon. It's about long-term care. Fully 47 percent of people aged 40 or older believe Medicare—the government's health insurance program for people aged 65-plus—covers long-term care services such as nursing homes, according to an AARP survey. Medicare does not cover these services. The misperception that Medicare does cover them may be why so few have made plans for long-term care needs as they age, suggests AARP.  

Only 40 percent of Americans aged 40-plus have set aside money for care in their future, the survey finds. An even smaller 28 percent have researched community-based services, 26 percent have researched in-home care options, and just 22 percent have purchased long-term care insurance.

With so few preparing for potential long-term care needs, what do middle-aged and older Americans think will happen if and when they need it?  Hey kids, listen up! The 64 percent majority want their family to help out—either doing all the heavy lifting or in combination with paid help. Here are the long-term care settings preferred by the 40-plus population...  

Preferred care setting if long-term care is needed
41% prefer a combination of family help and paid help at home
23% prefer only family help at home
17% prefer a nurse to provide care at home
11% prefer care in a residential apartment-like setting
  6% prefer care in a nursing home

Although 64 percent of middle-aged and older Americans want their family to help care for them, only 47 percent have discussed these preferences with their family. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Crushing Job Losses in Leisure and Hospitality

In the state of Idaho, jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry inched up by 0.5 percent between October 2019 and October 2020. That's the good news—the only good news. In every other state, leisure and hospitality jobs fell during the year ending in October 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a crushing blow to the industry, which is comprised of businesses offering accommodation (hotels and motels), food services (restaurants and bars), arts, entertainment and recreation (performing arts, spectator sports, museums, historical sites, casinos, amusement parks). 

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia had fewer leisure and hospitality industry jobs in October 2020 than they had one year earlier. In 44 states, the job decline was in the double digits. Hawaii saw the steepest plunge, with a 49.6 percent decrease in jobs. New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan, and the District of Columbia all experienced declines of greater than 30 percent. Only Montana, Kentucky, Wyoming, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi registered year-over-year job declines of less than 10 percent. 

As the coronavirus pandemic swept the country last spring, jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry nationally fell by a stunning 47 percent—from 16.1 million in March to just 8.5 million in April. In every month since April, however, the industry has regained jobs. But the 13.4 million leisure and hospitality jobs of October 2020 were still 20 percent short of the 16.7 million in October 2019.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Leisure and Hospitality Employment in Hawaii Down 49.6 Percent for Year Ended October 2020

Monday, November 30, 2020

Most Eat Sweets on an Average Day

On an average day, 70 percent of children and 61 percent of adults eat sweets, according to the USDA's Food Surveys Research Group. Notice the word "eat." These lofty percentages include only the consumption of sweet food—items such as nutrition bars, cakes, pies, cookies, doughnuts, candy, ice cream, and other solid foods with added sugar. Fruit is not included, nor are sweetened drinks. 

The types of sweets children and adults consume on an average day is surprisingly similar. Sweet bakery products comprise the largest share for both age groups (45 percent). Candy accounts for another 30 percent of the sweets consumed by children and 31 percent of the sweets consumed by adults.

On an average day, younger children are more likely than older children to eat sweets. Among adults, those aged 60-plus are more likely to eat sweets than young or middle-aged adults. 

Percent who ate sweets on an average day, 2015–18
Aged 2 to 5: 74%
Aged 6 to 11: 78%
Aged 12 to 19: 62%
Aged 20 to 39: 55%
Aged 40 to 59: 60%
Aged 60-plus: 70%

Daily calorie intake is 300 to 400 calories greater for those who eat sweets versus those who do not. Sweets account for 18 to 19 percent of the total daily calorie intake among children and for 19 percent of daily calories among adults aged 60 or older.  

Source: USDA Food Surveys Research Group, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2015–2018, Sweet Foods Consumption by Children in the U.S. and Sweet Foods Consumption by Adults in the U.S.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Most Voters Now Feel Hopeful

The 56 percent majority of all American voters now feel "hopeful" about the state of the United States, according to a Pew Research Center survey fielded November 12-17. Before the election in June 2020, a smaller 47 percent of registered voters felt hopeful. 

Not everyone feels more hopeful now than they did before the election. Hope has increased greatly among those who voted for Biden. Trump voters are much less likely to feel hopeful...

Percent of Biden voters who feel hopeful about the state of the nation
June: 42%
November: 72%
Change: +30 percentage points

Percent of Trump voters who feel hopeful about the state of the nation
June 53%
November: 39%
Change: –14 percentage points

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Fewer Support the Death Penalty

The 55 percent majority of Americans support the death penalty for a person convicted of murder, according to a recent Gallup Survey. This is the lowest level of support for the death penalty since 1972. The percentage of the public favoring the death penalty peaked at 80 percent in 1994. 

"Demographic trends may lead to further erosion in death penalty support," says Gallup. That's because the fastest-growing segments of the population are the ones least likely to support the death penalty—Gen Z and Millennials, non-whites, and college graduates. Here is the percentage who support the death penalty by generation...

Percent who support the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, 2020
Generation Z: 45%
Millennials: 51%
Generation X: 57%
Baby Boomers: 59%
Older Americans: 62%

Monday, November 23, 2020

144 Million Americans Cancelled Trips in 2020

Have you cancelled your traditional Thanksgiving travel plans because of coronavirus? If so, you belong to the supermajority of Americans who have scuttled 2020 travel plans during the pandemic. 

Because of coronavirus, fully 144 million Americans aged 18 or older report that they cancelled one or more planned overnight trips to a place 100 or more miles from their home. That's 66 percent of the adult population, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. Just 7 percent of those who had planned an overnight trip went ahead with the trip despite the pandemic. The remaining 27 percent of adults had not planned on taking any trips in 2020. 

There is little difference by age in the percentage of people who had to cancel a 2020 trip. There are big differences by household income, however. Take a look...

Percent who cancelled any planned overnight trips in 2020 because of the pandemic
Less than $25,000:         45%
$25,000 to $34,999:       55%
$35,000 to $49,999:       66%
$50,000 to $74,999:       68%
$75,000 to $99,999:       74%
$100,000 to $149,999:   78%
$150,000 to $199,999:   82%
$200,000 or more:          86%

Why the big difference by household income in the percentage of people who cancelled trips? Because those with lower incomes were much less likely to have planned on taking any trips in 2020. Only 45 percent of Americans in households with incomes below $25,000 cancelled any overnight trips in 2020 because an even larger 49 percent had not planned on taking any trips—they had no trips to cancel. Regardless of household income, only 5 to 8 percent of those who had planned a 2020 trip still traveled despite the risk. 

Source: Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Week 18 (October 28–November 9) 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

What Americans Owe

American households owed a median of $64,800 in 2019, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances. This means half of households owe more than this amount and half owe less. Here are the details of debt in 2019...

% of households 
with debt
    median amount
Any debt76.6%$64,800
Credit card balance45.4%$2,700
Primary residence42.1%$134,800
Vehicle loans36.9%$13,100
Education loans21.5%$22,300
Other installment loans10.5%$3,800
Other loans secured by residential property

The most common type of debt is credit card, with 45 percent of households having a credit card balance after their last payment. The majority of households use credit cards only for convenience, the Federal Reserve reports, paying the balance in full each month. 

Sixty-five percent of households owned their primary residence in 2019. With 42 percent of households having debt secured by their primary residence, this means about one-third of households own their home free and clear.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

What Americans Own

Almost all American households own something of value. Fully 99.6 percent of households owned one or more of the assets measured by the Federal Reserve Board's 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances. But only four kinds of assets are owned by most households: transaction accounts (checking and savings accounts), vehicles, a home, and a retirement account. 

Here is the percentage of households owning each type of asset, ranked from most to least common, and the median value of the assets for households that own them:

               percent of
households owning
   median value
        for owners
Any asset99.6%$227,600
Checking/savings accounts98.2%$5,300
Primary residence64.9%$225,000
Retirement account50.5%$65,000
Cash value life insurance19.0%$9,000
Stocks (directly owned)15.2%$25,000
Business equity13.4%$89,100
Other residential property13.1%$160,000
Pooled investment (mutual) funds9.0%$110,000
Certificates of deposit7.7%$25,000
Savings bonds7.5%$800
Equity in nonresidential property6.7%$72,000
Other managed assets5.9%$115,000
Bonds (directly owned)1.1%$121,000

Source: Federal Reserve Board, 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Does Happiness Rise in Old Age?

Over the years, happiness studies have revealed a "paradox of well-being"—the finding that life satisfaction increases with advancing age. This is a paradox because no one can explain why older people appear to become increasingly satisfied with their life despite more illness and the greater likelihood of widowhood.

Now a study explains the paradox. It is a mirage, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study by researchers at RAND. In an examination of longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study, the researchers find that older Americans with higher life satisfaction live longer than their counterparts with lower satisfaction. Consequently, as people age, those with higher life satisfaction account for a larger share of the survivors, driving up overall satisfaction levels. But looking at life satisfaction at the individual level shows a decline with age. While satisfaction is relatively stable from ages 65 to 75, the researchers report, the rate of decline grows with age at older ages. 

"Our results suggest that the optimistic picture about well-being among older persons based on cross-sectional data is misleading," the researchers conclude. "Those with lower levels of life satisfaction die younger and those who survive experience declining life satisfaction as they age."

What a bummer.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, The Age Profile of Life-Satisfaction after Age 65 in the U.S., NBER Working Paper 28037

Monday, November 16, 2020

Americans Are Mixed Up about Crime

If you ask the American public about crime in the United States, you almost always get the same answer. Crime is increasing. The trouble is, the American public is wrong. Gallup surveys reveal just how unhinged attitudes are about crime, reflecting fear rather than facts.  

Let's start with the facts. When Gallup asked respondents in 2020 whether their household or they personally had been victimized by crime in the past 12 months, the percentage who said yes was at a record low on both measures. Twenty percent said their household had been victimized by crime and 13 percent said they personally had been a victim. These are the lowest rates of victimization recorded by Gallup since it first asked these questions in 2000. 

Now let's move on to the fear. Here's what Gallup reports: "Americans are more likely to perceive crime in the U.S. as having increased over the prior year (78%) than they have been at any point since 1993." But if you ask Americans about crime in their local area, where they are more familiar with the facts, only 38 percent say crime has increased in the past year. The gap between perceptions of crime in the U.S. as a whole and local areas is fully 40 percentage points—the largest recorded by Gallup in the three decades it has tracked these trends.

The perception of increased crime in the U.S. as a whole is being driven largely by Republicans, Gallup reports. The percentage of Republicans who say crime in the U.S. is increasing surged by 24 percentage points in 2020 and stands at 83 percent. Among Democrats, 73 percent say crime in the U.S. is increasing, 4 percentage points higher than a year earlier. But when asked whether crime has increased in their local area, a similarly small percentage of Republicans (38 percent) and Democrats (36 percent) say yes. 

"Americans' persistent belief that crime worsened in the past year has been out of sync with federal crime statistics showing that crime rates have fallen," Gallup concludes. "Much of this is politically driven."

Source: Gallup, U.S. Reports of Crime Victimization at 20-Year Low and Perceptions of Increased U.S. Crime at Highest Since 1993

Thursday, November 12, 2020

68% Support Legal Marijuana

More than two-thirds of the American public (68 percent) supports the legalization of marijuana, the highest percentage recorded by Gallup since it first asked the question in 1969. Back then, only 12 percent of the population said yes when asked, "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal?" Three decades later in 2000, just 30 percent supported legalization. Then attitudes really began to change. The figure surpassed 50 percent in 2011 and has continued to rise upward almost steadily since then. 

The majority of every age group now supports the legalization of marijuana. Here are the percentages who support legalizing marijuana by age, education, and political affiliation...

Percent who think the use of marijuana should be made legal
Aged 18 to 29: 79%
Aged 30 to 49: 75%
Aged 50 to 64: 60%
Aged 65-plus: 55%

Not a college graduate: 64%
College graduate: 76%

Democrats: 83%
Republicans: 48%

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Big Spenders on Food

A century ago, 38 cents out of every dollar spent by the average American household was spent on food. Today, the figure is just 11 cents. Whew, right? 

Not so fast. Many Americans still spend more than one-third of their income on food—and it's not because they're dining out at fancy restaurants. The share of income a household devotes to food is greatest for households with the lowest incomes. Here is the food share of household expenditures by household income quintile...

Percent of after-tax income spent on food by household income quintile, 2019
Bottom quintile: 36%
Second quintile: 18%
Middle quintile: 14%
Fourth quintile: 11%
Highest quintile: 8%

Note: Households in the bottom income quintile have a before-tax income below $22,488; second income quintile $22,488 to $43,431; middle income quintile $43,432 to $72,233; fourth income quintile $72,234 to $120,728; highest income quintile $120,729 and above.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Want to Do Well? Be Financially Literate

Does it pay to be financially literate? Yes, according to the findings of a longitudinal study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. The study began in 2012 when researchers measured the financial literacy of a group of participants in the RAND American Life Panel. The study ended in 2018 when the financial status of the same respondents was measured to determine whether those with greater financial literacy were doing better than those with less. They were.

Financial literacy was measured using the FINRA Investor Education Foundation's National Financial Capability Study questionnaire, which consists of five questions about savings, inflation, mortgages, interest rates, and credit cards. The questionnaire can be accessed here

The study measured three positive outcomes: the respondent's level of satisfaction with their financial situation, the respondent's ability to meet an unexpected $2,000 expense, and whether the respondent is planning for retirement. All three positive outcomes were increasingly likely with greater financial literacy, even after controlling for demographic characteristics and current financial condition. The biggest impact was seen in the ability to pay an unexpected $2,000 expense. Among those who failed to answer any of the financial literacy questions correctly, only 46 percent said they would be able to pay such an expense. Among those who answered all five questions correctly, a much larger 67 percent said they would be able to pay the expense. 

"Differences in one's stock of financial knowledge can lead to increasing disparities over the life course," the researchers conclude. "Thus, differential levels of financial literacy may contribute to widening inequality among different segments of the population."

Source: FINRA Investor Education Foundation, The Stability and Predictive Power of Financial Literacy: Evidence from Longitudinal Data

Monday, November 09, 2020

Grim Findings from the Household Pulse Survey

Now that the election is over, let's hope the nation's attention returns to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on American lives and livelihoods. Attention is required. The latest Weekly Pulse Newsletter from the Census Bureau lays it out in grim detail. Here, verbatim, is how things stood at the end of October...

  • 24.1% of American adults expect someone in their household to experience a loss in employment income in the next 4 weeks
  • 36.9% of adults live in households where at least one adult substituted some or all in-person work for telework because of the coronavirus pandemic
  • 10.9% of American adults lived in households where there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the previous 7 days
  • 7.0% of adults are either not current on their rent or mortgage payment or have slight or no confidence in making their next payment on time
  • Of adults living in households not current on rent or mortgage, 28.4% report eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either somewhat or very likely
  • 33.1% of adults live in households where it has been somewhat or very difficult to pay usual household expenses during the coronavirus pandemic
  • 82.5% of adults in households with post-secondary educational plans had those plans cancelled or changed significantly this fall

These findings come from the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, which is measuring the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on American households. Phase 1 of the survey assessed households every week from April 23 through July 21. That was supposed to be the end of it, but the pandemic had other plans. So on August 19 the Census Bureau began Phase 2 of the survey, collecting data every two weeks...until November 4. Meanwhile, the pandemic rages on. 

Source: Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, October 14-26

Thursday, November 05, 2020

We Spend More on Pets than Child Care

The average American household spent $681 on pets in 2019, including pet food, veterinary services, medicines, toys, grooming, doggy daycare, and so on. This is more than the average household spent on cable television ($647) and many other items, such as...

Alcoholic beverages ($579)
Lodging on trips ($619)
Child care ($429)
Internet services ($557)
Furniture ($521)
Women's clothes ($602)
Airline fares ($513)
Drugs ($486)

Average household spending on pets was 21 percent greater in 2019 than in 2010 ($563), after adjusting for inflation. It was more than double the $311 spent by the average household in 2000. But the 2019 figure is not the highest it has ever been. Peak pet spending occurred in 2017, when the average household spent $740 on pets. 

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

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

How Much Will You Inherit?

If you're in the top tiers of the household wealth distribution, chances are it's because your parents (and their parents) were generous with their money. Up to one-half of total household wealth is attributable to intergenerational transfers, reports a Federal Reserve analysis of trends in the distribution of wealth. So, it's no surprise that the wealthiest households are the ones who expect to receive the largest inheritances. Here are inheritance expectations by household net worth percentiles...

Size of Expected Inheritance by Household Net Worth Percentile, 2019
Net worth percentile    Expected inheritance
Top 1 percent          $941,100
Next 9 percent          $266,600
Next 40 percent            $60,100
Bottom 50 percent            $29,400

Not sure where your net worth ranks in the U.S. wealth distribution? Among all households, median net worth was $121,800 in 2019. Among households in the top 10 percent of net worth, median net worth was $2.6 million and average net worth was $5.7 million. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Has God Granted America a Special Role?

Four years ago, the 57 percent majority of Americans agreed with the statement: "God has granted America a special role in human history." Back in 2016, fully 76 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats agreed, according to PRRI's American Values Survey. 

Most Americans don't feel that way anymore. Four years of the Trump presidency have caused many to lose faith. Either they've decided God has nothing to do with the current state of affairs, or they've decided the U.S. has no special role to play. Only 40 percent of the public now agrees with the statement. Among Democrats, the share who agree fell by more than 20 percentage points to 32 percent. Among Republicans, the share agreeing fell 12 percentage points to 64 percent—still the great majority. 

Source: PRRI, 2020 American Values Survey

Monday, November 02, 2020

The Changing Demographics of Voters

The nation's electorate is changing in every way. It is getting older, becoming more diverse, and is increasingly educated. Pew Research Center recently analyzed the demographics of registered voters and compared the results to voters in the past...

Non-Hispanic whites as a share of registered voters
Total registered voters: 69%
Democratic/lean Democratic: 59%
Republican/lean Republican: 81%

In 1996, fully 85 percent of registered voters were non-Hispanic white—94 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats.

People aged 50-plus as a share of registered voters
Total registered voters: 52%
Democratic/lean Democratic: 50%
Republican/lean Republican: 56%

The 50-plus age group accounts for the majority of registered voters heading into the 2020 election. In 1996, voters aged 50 or older were just 41 percent of the electorate.

College graduates as a share of registered voters
Total registered voters: 36%
Democratic/lean Democratic: 38%
Republican/lean Republican: 29%

College graduates are a much larger share of the electorate in 2020 than they were in 1996. People with a college degree accounted for just 24 percent of all registered voters in 1996. Back then, college graduates were a larger share of Republicans (27 percent) than Democrats (22 percent). Today, college graduates are a much larger share of Democrats than Republicans.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

College Enrollment Has Dropped

Undergraduate enrollment at institutions of higher education was 4 percent lower as of September 24, 2020, than one year earlier, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The Clearinghouse updates its enrollment data monthly as it tracks the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation's colleges. The data are submitted by Title IV degree-granting institutions in the U.S. that participate in the Clearinghouse. Fifty-four percent of institutions submitted data for the September update.

The biggest enrollment drop has taken place at community colleges. At the end of September, enrollment in community colleges was 9.4 percent lower than one year earlier. Undergraduate enrollment was down 2.0 percent at private, nonprofit four-year schools, and it has fallen 1.4 percent at public four-year schools. 

The Clearinghouse reports that the biggest enrollment drop is among first-time beginning students, with enrollment as of September 24, 2020, fully 16.1 percent below the level one year earlier. First-time beginning students account for 69 percent of the decline in undergraduate enrollment nationwide. 

The undergraduate enrollment decline is similar in every age group, but is greater for males (6.4 percent) than for females (2.2 percent). By race and Hispanic origin, the decline is greater for Blacks (7.9 percent), non-Hispanic whites (7.6 percent), and Hispanics (6.1 percent) than for Asians (4.0 percent). By far the biggest enrollment decline of all was among international students, with 13.6 percent fewer enrolled as undergraduates in the nation's colleges in September 2020 than in September 2019.

Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Covid-19, Stay Informed with the Latest Enrollment Information

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

All Eyes on the Young Adult Vote

If young adults do what they say, the 2020 election may be one for the history books. Fully 55 percent of 18-to-36-year-olds say they will "definitely vote" in next week's election, according to the University of Chicago's GenForward Survey. Another 19 percent say they will "probably vote." If they do as they say, then voter turnout of the 18-to-36 age group may exceed the 54 percent who voted in the 2008 election, which swept Barack Obama into the White House. 

Young adults are notorious for not voting, a frustration for those who seek progressive change and a boon to those who want to maintain the status quo. In the 2016 presidential election, just 49.8 percent of citizens aged 18 to 36 voted, according to the Census Bureau. In the 2012 election, the figure was 49.2 percent. But the GenForward survey results suggest greater enthusiasm this time around. The majority of 18-to-36-year-olds say they have "quite a bit/great deal" of interest in this election. Here are the percentages who say they will definitely vote by race and Hispanic origin...

Percent of 18-to-36-year-olds who say they will definitely vote in the 2020 presidential election
Total: 55%
Asians: 56%
Blacks: 59%
Hispanics: 49%
Non-Hispanic whites: 57%

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

Thursday, October 01, 2020

How Important Is Computer Science Education?

The 69 percent majority of parents with children in grades 7 through 12 think it is important for their children to learn computer science, but only 35 percent think it is very important, according to a Gallup survey supported by Google. For the survey, computer science is defined as "the study of computers, including both hardware and software design, development and programming." It does not include simply using a computer, doing online research, or creating documents on a computer.  

Students themselves are even less likely than parents to think it is important to learn computer science. Only 40 percent think it is important, and just 16 percent think it is very important. Boys (22 percent) are more likely than girls (9 percent) to think it is very important to learn computer science.

Among parents, 32 percent think it is very likely that their child will need to know computer science for their career someday. Just 35 percent of parents have ever encouraged their child to pursue a career in computer science. Among students, only 10 percent say they are very likely to pursue a career in computer science.

Source: Gallup, Parents Think Computer Science Education Is Important

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Covid-19 Recession Endangers Black Wealth

First, the good news. The median net worth of Black households climbed 33 percent between 2016 and 2019, after adjusting for inflation. This was a much bigger increase than the 18 percent rise in the median net worth of all households during those years and far surpassed the 3 percent increase in the median net worth of non-Hispanic white households.

There's more good news. The wealth gap between non-Hispanic whites and Blacks narrowed between 2016 and 2019. Non-Hispanic white households had 10 times the wealth of Blacks in 2016. They had only 8 times the wealth in 2019.

Now for the bad news. The median net worth of Black households was just $24,100 in 2019. Sure, this is 33 percent more than in 2016, but it isn't much of a buffer during a pandemic. 

Median household net worth by race and Hispanic origin of householder, 2019
Non-Hispanic whites: $189,100
Hispanics: $36,100
Blacks: $24,100

Now for the really bad news. The gains made by Black households in the past few years are endangered by the coronavirus pandemic. To start with, Black households had less of a financial buffer than non-Hispanic whites or Hispanics. Now, the buffer is eroding in the struggle to stay afloat during the Covid-19 Recession. 

Blacks have been hit hard by Covid-19—physically and financially. As of mid-September, 1 in 1,020 Blacks has died of coronavirus, according to APM Research Lab—a higher rate than any other race or Hispanic origin group. The 52 percent majority of Blacks say they or someone in their household has experienced a loss of employment income since March 2020, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey fielded in September. Thirty-two percent of Blacks expect to lose employment income in their household in the next four weeks. Among Black homeowners, 16 percent could not make last month's mortgage payment. Among Black renters, 24 percent missed last month's rent. Forty-three percent of Blacks have had trouble paying bills during the pandemic, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Forty percent have had to use money from their savings or retirement account to make ends meet. One in three has had to borrow money from friends or family to stay afloat. 

We won't know how much damage the Covid-19 Recession inflicts on Black household wealth until the results of the 2022 Survey of Consumer Finances are released in the fall of 2023. But, it's not looking good. The gains of the past few years may be wiped out. 

Source: Federal Reserve Board, 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Median Household Net Worth in 2019: $121,800

How wealthy is the average American household? We find out only every three years, which is a very long wait. Well, the wait is over but the moment is bittersweet. 

On the one hand, we now know that net worth climbed by a substantial 17.7 percent between 2016 and 2019, after adjusting for inflation—almost, but not quite, a record-busting increase (outdone only by the 18.4 percent increase between 2004 and 2007). On the other hand, because of Covid, who cares? Reviewing the  2019 numbers is like looking through an old family photo album of a time long ago and far away.

Still, the story must be told...

Median household net worth, 1989 to 2019 (in 2019 dollars)
2019: $121,800
2016: $103,500
2013:   $89,400
2010:   $90,700
2007: $149,400 (record high)
2004: $126,200
2001: $125,300
1998: $112,800
1995:   $96,500
1992:   $88,900
1989:   $93,600

Source: Federal Reserve Board, 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances