American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
April 2018

Big City Counties Still Growing Fast, but…

IN THIS ISSUE:

1. Hot Trends:BIG COUNTIES STILL FASTEST GROWING, BABY BUST IS HURTING RURAL AMERICA, TECHNOLOGICAL WHIPLASH, HOW’S THE TCHOTCHKE INDEX DOING?, THE GENERATIONS IN 2017, and more

2. Business Tools:

NEW: NSP ALL ACCESS PASS to digital content
AMERICAN MARKETPLACE, 14th ed.
BEST CUSTOMERS, 12th ed.
AMERICAN GENERATIONS, 9th ed.
DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE U.S., 5th ed.
HOUSEHOLD SPENDING, 21st ed

To see Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog, click here.

1. Hot Trends 

Big City Counties Still Growing Fast, but…
The nation’s most urban counties continue to grow faster than any other county type according to the Census Bureau’s 2017 county population estimates. A Demo Memo analysis of 2010-to-2017 county population trends along the Rural-Urban Continuumdocuments ongoing metro growth (the bigger, the better) and continuing rural decline. But the 2017 data reveal changing patterns of growth.

The Rural-Urban Continuum is the federal government’s way of classifying counties by their degree of urbanity. The continuum is a scale ranging from 1 (the most urban counties, in metropolitan areas of 1 million or more) to 9 (the most rural counties, lacking any settlements of 2,500 or more people and not adjacent to a metropolitan area). If you sort the nation’s 3,000-plus counties by their rank on the continuum, then measure population change between 2010 and 2017 for each rank, this is the result…

Population change in population by RUC Rank, 2010-17
1. 7.1%for counties in metros with 1 million or more people
2. 5.5% for counties in metros of 250,000 to 1 million people
3. 3.5% for counties in metros with less than 250,000 people
4. 0.3% for nonmetro counties with urban population of 20,000-plus, adjacent to metro
5. 1.6% for nonmetro counties with urban population of 20,000-plus, not adjacent to metro
6. -1.0% for nonmetro counties with urban population of 2,500-19,999, adjacent to metro
7. -1.4% for nonmetro counties with urban population of 2,500-19,999, not adjacent to metro
8. -1.3% for nonmetro counties with urban population less than 2,500, adjacent to metro
9. -1.7% for nonmetro counties with urban population less than 2,500, not adjacent to metro

Counties with a rank of 1 on the continuum (the most urban) have grown faster than any other county type in every year since 2010. But the pattern of growth is changing as the decade progresses. Average annual growth rates in smaller metro counties (rank 2 and 3) are increasing, while average annual growth is slowing in the largest urban counties. Some nonmetropolitan counties saw their population losses turn to small gains in 2017 (rank 6 and 8). These emerging trends are signs that the economic recovery is increasingly widespread.

 

Baby Bust Is Hurting Rural America

Forty percent of the nation’s 3,000-plus counties have experienced more deaths than births since 2010, according to the Census Bureau’s latest county population estimates. The aging of the population (more deaths), drug overdoses (more deaths), and the ongoing baby bust (fewer births) has resulted in negative natural increase (births minus deaths) in huge swaths of the country.

Rural areas have been hit particularly hard by the one-two punch of more deaths and fewer births. Negative natural increase is a big reason for the population decline in many rural counties. Nearly half or more of the counties ranking a 6, 7, 8, and 9 on the Rural-Urban Continuumexperienced more deaths than births in the 2010-to-2017 time period.

The Rural-Urban Continuum (RUC) is the federal government’s way of classifying counties by their degree of urbanity. The continuum is a scale ranging from 1 (the most urban counties, in metropolitan areas of 1 million or more) to 9 (the most rural counties, lacking any settlements of 2,500 or more people and not adjacent to a metropolitan area). If you sort the nation’s 3,000-plus counties by their rank on the continuum, then measure the percentage of counties in each rank in which deaths outnumbered births from 2010 to 2017, this is the result…

Percent with more deaths than births by RUC rank, 2010-17
1. 13.2% of counties in metros with 1 million or more people
2. 26.7% of counties in metros of 250,000 to 1 million people
3. 27.5% of counties in metros with less than 250,000 people
4. 34.1% of nonmetro counties with urban population of 20,000-plus, adjacent to metro
5. 23.9% of nonmetro counties with urban population of 20,000-plus, not adjacent to metro
6. 48.6% of nonmetro counties with urban population of 2,500-19,999, adjacent to metro
7. 48.7% of nonmetro counties with urban population of 2,500-19,999, not adjacent to metro
8. 68.3% of nonmetro counties with urban population less than 2,500, adjacent to metro
9. 59.1% of nonmetro counties with urban population less than 2,500, not adjacent to metro

The most urban counties were least likely to have negative natural increase–only 13 percent of big-city counties experienced more deaths than births since 2010.

 

26% Online “Almost Constantly”

How often do you go online? If that seems like a silly question because you’re always online, join the crowd. More than one in four American adults (26 percent) reports going online almost constantly, according to Pew Research Center.Another 43 percent go online several times a day, 8 percent once a day, 11 percent less than once a day, and another 11 percent do not go online at all. By age, the percentage who report going online almost constantly looks like this…

Percent who go online almost constantly
Aged 18 to 29: 39%
Aged 30 to 49: 36%
Aged 50 to 64: 17%
Aged 65-plus: 8%

 

A Case Study of Technological Whiplash 

In 2005 the Bureau of Labor Statistics added a category to the Consumer Expenditure Survey–personal digital audio players. The phenomenal success of Apple’s iPod demanded a new expenditure category, and four years after the iPod’s introduction in 2001 it took its place in the survey. Alas, it was too late to capture the full arc of spending on new technology in an era of innovation–from zero to THE BIG THING and back to zero.

The first year in which personal digital audio players were included in the Consumer Expenditure Survey was 2005. But 2006 was the first full year of data collection–one year before the category was blown to smithereens by the introduction of the iPhone. The first full year of data collection was also the apparent peak year of average household spending on personal digital audio players, according to a Demo Memo analysis of the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Spending on personal digital audio players, 2006-16 (2016$)
2006: $20.73 (peak spending)
2007: $20.13
2008: $15.12
2009: $14.55
2010: $12.57
2011: $10.98
2012:   $7.75
2013:   $4.87
2014:   $3.07
2015:   $1.83
2016:   $1.76

Average household spending on personal digital audio players fell 92 percent between 2006 and 2016, after adjusting for inflation.

The average household spent more on iPods and their kin in 2006 than it did on a number of other entertainment categories, including bicycles, musical instruments, camping equipment, winter sports equipment, and streamed and downloaded audio and video. By 2016, spending on personal digital audio players was one of the smallest items in the entertainment category.

 

The Racial Wealth Gap Is Replicating 

Black households are more likely than White households to have student debt. This is a problem, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The disparity in student debt is replicating the racial wealth gap in the younger generation.

Using data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, visiting scholar Fenaba R. Addo of the St. Louis Fed’s Center for Household Financial Stability, examines the emerging racial wealth gap among those in the 1997 cohort (first interviewed when they were aged 12 to 16) who graduated from college. Among the graduates, Blacks were less likely than Whites to receive financial help from their parents in paying college expenses–58 percent of Blacks received help versus 72 percent of Whites. The Black college graduates who received help got less than their White counterparts–$4,200 for Blacks versus $11,700 for Whites.

These disparities occurred because Black parents are far less wealthy than White parents. The Black parents in the study had an average net worth of $48,500 versus $174,900 for the White parents. With parents less able to help out, Black students are more likely to depend on student loans, and this is replicating the racial wealth gap. By age 25, according to Addo’s findings, the average net worth of the White graduates exceeded that of the Black graduates by 84 percent…

Average net worth of NLSY97 college graduates at age 25
Black: $20,186
White: $37,182

 

Earnings Rise, but It Feels Like a Loss

Men without a bachelor’s degree earn more than their counterparts did several decades ago, reports Stephen J. Rose of the Urban Institutein a recent analysis. But the rise in their earnings feels like a loss because they are losing ground relative to the rest of the workforce.

Take a look at the growing gap between the earnings of men with and without a bachelor’s degree: Men with a bachelor’s degree earned 50 percent more than those without a degree in 1980, says Rose. The gap grew to 81 percent by 2000. It climbed to 119 percent in 2015. Ouch. Because the earnings of men without a bachelor’s degree are growing much more slowly than the earnings of college graduates, their standard of living is in relative decline.

In the past, says Rose, a middle-class lifestyle was achieved by owning a 1,000 square foot home with a single bathroom. Today, it requires owning “a 2,000 square foot house with air conditioning and multiple bathrooms, bigger and more appliances, TVs, computers, cell phones, and other amenities not available in the past.” The earnings of working men without a college education are enough to achieve the modest middle-class lifestyle of yesterday. But they are not enough to achieve the middle-class lifestyle of today. “Plainly, the norms of today’s middle-class life…require more money,” says Rose.

 

Facebook: Big News Source for Millennials

The Millennial generation gets most of its news from the internet, according to a 2018 survey by the GenForward Projectat the University of Chicago. The percentage of Millennials who say they get most of their news online ranges from a low of 61 percent among Hispanics to a high of 87 percent among Asians.

But what does it mean to get most of your news online? Does it mean going directly to a news site, or to a news aggregator (such as Reddit), or to a social media site (such as Facebook)? According to the results, the answer is yes to all three. Among Millennials who get most of their news from the internet, there is a fairly even split among the three types of news sources…

Get most news from a news website
Asians: 25%
Blacks: 30%
Hispanics: 28%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 40%

Get most news from a news aggregator
Asians: 31%
Blacks: 15%
Hispanics: 26%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 25%

Get most news from social media
Asians: 43%
Blacks: 54%
Hispanics: 44%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 35%

Regardless of race or Hispanic origin, Facebook dominates social media sites as a source of news for Millennials, according to the report. In the past week, 62 percent of Hispanics, 64 percent of Blacks, 67 percent of non-Hispanic Whites, and 74 percent of Asians have read news stories or headlines on Facebook.

 

Gen Xers: Deepest in Debt

No generation is deeper in debt than Generation X. In part, that’s because they are in the lifestage (middle age) when debt peaks. But it’s also because they are the generation that was hurt the most by the Great Recession, many of them buying homes when housing prices peaked and losing wealth as housing values fell.

Only 8 percent of Generation Xers do not have some type of debt, according to TransAmerica’s 18th Annual Retirement Survey of Workers. Fully 72 percent of Gen X workers say their financial priority is paying off debt, surpassing the 61 percent who say saving for retirement is a priority. Here’s what Gen Xers owe…

Percent of Generation X workers with debt
66% have credit card debt
55% have a mortgage
48% have car loans
20% have student loans
16% have medical debt

The Great Recession’s impact on Generation X is documented by the TransAmerica survey. Only 39 percent of workers in the generation say they either were not impacted or have fully recovered from the Great Recession. Another 38 percent say they have somewhat recovered from the Great Recession. Nearly one in four (23 percent) of Gen X workers say they have not yet begun or may never recover from the Great Recession, the largest share among the generations.

 

How Many Boomers Are Retired? 
The Baby-Boom generation is reaching the age of retirement. But what percentage of the generation has retired? According to a Demo Memo analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ 2017 labor force participation rates by single year of age, 45 percent of the Boomers are retired–meaning they are not in the labor force–and 55 percent are still working. Here’s the breakdown…
  • 73 million Boomers were in the civilian noninstitutional population in 2017.
  • 32 million Boomers were not in the labor force (45 percent).
  • 41 million Boomers were still in the labor force (55 percent).
  • 26 million Boomers worked full-time–66 percent of Boomer workers and 36 percent of the Boomer population.
Most Boomer workers have full-time jobs regardless of age. Among the 39 percent of 65-year-olds in the labor force, fully 70 percent worked full-time. Among the 20 percent of 71-year-olds (the oldest Boomers) in the labor force, 51 percent had full-time jobs.

 

Who Is “Too Old” to Work?

At what age do you consider a person to be “old”? That question was asked by the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studiesin its 18th annual retirement survey of workers. The answer? It depends. The older you are, the older “old” gets. Millennials consider 65 to be the age at which a person is old. For Gen Xers, the age is 70. Among Boomers, it’s 75.

The survey also asked, “At what age do you consider a person to be ‘too old’ to work?” Millennials said 70, while Gen Xers and Boomers said 75. But many respondents did not give an age at all and said it depends on the person–44 percent of Millennials, 54 percent of Gen Xers, and 69 percent of Boomers.

When asked how long they plan to live, every generation gave a median age of 90. Boomers expect to spend 20 years in retirement, Gen Xers 23, and Millennials 25.

 

How’s the Tchotchke Index Doing?

If you want proof of the economic recovery, look no further than the Tchotchke Index. As defined by Demo Memonearly a decade ago,  the Tchotchke Index is the amount of money spent by the average household on “decorative items for the home,” one of the detailed categories in the Consumer Expenditure Survey. As explained all those years ago, the Tchotchke Index is “an excellent gauge of the economic wellbeing of American households…Spending on tchotchkes tracks the economy’s ups and downs with the precision of other, better-known measures such as the Consumer Confidence Index, the unemployment rate, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.”

No one needs tchotchkes. Decorative items for the home are purely discretionary and an impulse buy. Spending on them rises when times are good and falls when times are bad, which is why they are a good measure of household economic wellbeing. Here is the latest on the Tchotchke Index for selected years since 2000 (in 2016 dollars)…

Tchotchke Index
2016: $162.75
2015: $137.97
2014: $112.66
2013: $105.87 (low)
2007: $179.33
2000: $266.50 (high)

In 2016, the Tchotchke Index was higher than at any time since 2007 and fully 54 percent above the $105.87 post-Great Recession low of 2013. But the 2016 Index was still well below the $266.50 of 2000. Why was the Tchotchke Index so high in 2000? Because American household incomes peaked one year earlier, in 1999.

How would you answer this question?

“Would you say that people should obey the law without exception, or are there exceptional occasions on which people should follow their conscience even if it means breaking the law?”

Only 41 percent of Americans say people should always obey the law, according to a Demo Memo analysis of the 2016 General Social Survey. The 59 percent majority say follow your conscience. Older Americans are most likely to say people should always obey the law…

Always obey the law
Millennials: 33%
Gen Xers: 43%
Boomers: 46%
Older: 53%

 

Who Eats Salad?

On an average day, 20 percent of Americans aged 1 or older eat salad, according to the USDA’s Food Surveys Research Group. The group defines salad as a mixture composed mainly of raw vegetables and excludes such things as fruit, pasta, potato, chicken, and tuna salad. The data come from the 2011-14 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which asks respondents to recall their food consumption for the previous 24 hours.

Females (23 percent) are more likely than males (16 percent) to eat salad on an average day, and older people are more likely than younger. Among adults aged 20 to 39, 18 percent eat salad on an average day. Among adults aged 40 or older, a larger 26 percent do. Those most likely to eat salad on an average day are women aged 60 or older (31 percent). Salad consumption also rises with income. Only 13 percent of people aged 1 or older from households with the lowest incomes eat salad on an average day versus 26 percent of those from households with the highest incomes.

Salads can contain a variety of ingredients, and most of the salads reported by survey respondents contained at least two raw vegetables. Here are the percentages of salads consumed on an average day that contained the following ingredients: 86% lettuce or leafy greens; 86% salad dressing; 43% tomatoes; 34% carrots; 27% onions; 25% cheese; 20% cucumbers; 19% meat, poultry, or fish; 10% croutons; 9% sweet peppers; 8% nuts or seeds; 7% olives; 7% celery; 5% avocado; 5% egg; and 5% broccoli.

 

Many Retirees Don’t Spend Down Savings

Here’s how it’s supposed work: save for retirement during your decades in the labor force, then spend down those savings in retirement. But that’s not how it works for many Americans.

Retirees are loath to spend down their savings, according to a study by Sudipto Banerjee of the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, Banerjee examines changes in the non-housing assets of retirees during nearly two decades of retirement. He divides retirees into three groups based on the size of their pre-retirement non-housing assets, minus debt: Group A had non-housing assets below $200,000 (median of $29,975); Group B had non-housing assets between $200,000 and $500,000 (median of $333,940); Group C had non-housing assets of $500,000 or more (median of $857,450). Regardless of asset group, Banerjee finds the same phenomenon–the non-housing assets of retirees shrink far less than what is assumed by retirement models. After 17 to 20 years of retirement, Group A’s non-housing assets had fallen by only 24 percent, Group B’s by 27 percent, and Group C’s by 12 percent.

Not only are retirees resistant to spending down their savings, a large percentage actually grow their assets in retirement. More than one-third of retirees, regardless of asset group, had larger non-housing assets after nearly two decades of retirement than they did at the time they retired.

Retirees are hesitant to spend down their savings for four reason: 1) uncertainty about future financial needs; 2) the desire to leave an inheritance; 3) not knowing the safe rate for spending down assets; and 4) behavioral habits. “After building a saving habit throughout their working lives, people find it challenging to shift into spending mode,” Banerjee suggests.

 

64% of Older Americans Create Art

Most older Americans participate in the arts. A study for the National Endowment for the Artsexamines arts participation by people aged 55 or older and, using 2014 data from the Health and Retirement Study, determines whether participation is linked to better physical and mental health. It is. Those who participate in the arts and/or attend arts events have higher levels of cognitive functioning and less physical disability than those who do not.

Few older Americans are not involved in the arts. Just 16 percent of people aged 55 or older neither created art nor attended arts events in the past year. Another 20 percent attended events but did not create art. The 64 percent majority of people aged 55 or older created art–49 percent both created art and attended arts events and another 15 percent created art but did not attend events. Here’s what the 64 percent of doers create…

27% crochet, knit, sew, weave, needlepoint, or make jewelry
24% dance, including social dancing
19% sing or play a musical instrument
13% do photography, graphic design, or filmmaking
12% do woodwork, leatherwork, or metal work
7% paint, sculpt, or make ceramics
7% write stories, poetry, or plays
1% act in theater or film

Fully 43 percent of women aged 55 or older crochet, knit, quilt, sew, weave, do needlepoint, or make jewelry compared with only 4 percent of men. Conversely, 26 percent of men participate in woodworking, leatherwork or metal work versus only 3 percent of women.

 

The Generations in 2017

Generational power is shifting, according to a Demo Memo analysis of the Census Bureau’s 2017 population estimatesby single-year of age. Older generations are losing people, while younger generations are growing because of immigration.

Between 2010 and 2017, Baby Boomers lost nearly 4 million of their peers, a 5 percent decline in the size of the generation. The number in the older Swing generation fell by 2 million, an 8 percent decline. The World War II generation (the oldest) lost 7.6 million members–a 54 percent decline since 2010. Gen Xers saw their ranks fall by just 87,000 during those years.

Meanwhile, the number of Millennials grew by 2.8 million between 2010 and 2017, thanks to immigration. The iGeneration grew by 1.7 million. The Recession generation, aged 0 to 7, is now larger than the Swing and World War II generations combined.

Size of generations in 2017 (and % of total population)
325,719,178 (100.0%): Total population
32,028,089 (  9.8%): Recessiongeneration (aged 0 to 7)
63,140,935 (19.4%): iGeneration(aged 8 to 22)
79,671,915 (24.5%): Millennialgeneration (aged 23 to 40)
49,158,485 (15.1%): Generation X(aged 41 to 52)
73,465,961 (22.6%): Baby Boomgeneration (aged 53 to 71)
21,785,111 (  6.7%): Swinggeneration (aged 72 to 84)
6,468,682 (  2.0%): World War IIgeneration (aged 85+)

These are a sampling of posts published in the past few weeks in Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog. Please send questions or comments to demographics@newstrategist.com.

BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW

 

Percent change in median net worth of households by age of householder, 2007 to 2016 (in 2016 dollars)…

Under age 35:  -19%
Aged 35 to 44: -41%
Aged 45 to 54: -42%
Aged 55 to 64: -36%
Aged 65 to 74: -19%
Aged 75-plus:   +7%

 

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by Cheryl Russell
You might call Demographics of the U.S. the encyclopedia of the 21st century. This all-new edition of Demographics of the U.S. focuses tightly on what has happened since the year 2000. It collects, in one place, the broad range of demographic and socioeconomic trends as we veered off the path of prosperity, and it details where we’ve been ever since. This is a reference tool for those who want perspective on the many ongoing changes in American life–a perspective critical for understanding the future. It includes single-year data on many topics and highlights the most important trends of the 21st century.

Demographics of the U.S. explains the increasingly complex, often confusing, and rapidly changing nation we live in today. It makes sense of the recent past and shines a light on our future. The reference is divided into 11 chapters, organized alphabetically: Attitudes, Education, Housing, Income, Labor Force, Living Arrangements, Population, Spending, Time Use, and Wealth.

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BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW

Percent of people aged 65 or older who go grocery shopping on an average day…

Men: 15%
Women: 19%