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The End of the World as We Know It
There's no need to count down the days until December 21, 2012--when some say the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world as we know it. The Mayans were right, but they were off by about 20 years. The Internet made primitives not only of older generations, but of all time before, say, 1993. That's when instantaneous mass communication lit up the earth like a light bulb and ended the World as We Knew It. Those of us older than say, 30, have been adjusting to the consequences ever since. The younger ones don't know what all the fuss is about.
For those in doubt, here is just one example: In the oh-so-hip series of Whole Earth Catalogs (published from 1968 to 1972), each entry was accompanied, quaintly, by the mailing address of the manufacturer. Like something you see in the catalog? Write a letter and mail a check. The end of the world has not been pretty. It has not been easy. And it is not over.
The Rise of the City
Nevada was once the fastest growing state. Now it has fallen to 27th place, according to the Census Bureau's 2011 state population estimates. Between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2011, Nevada's population grew by just 0.8 percent. This is well below the 1.7 percent growth rate of North Dakota, which ranks a much higher 6th among states because of its booming economy.
Interestingly, the fastest growing "state" is the District of Columbia, something that has not occurred since the 1940s according to the bureau. Between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011, the District of Columbia's population expanded by 2.7 percent--well above second place Texas (2.1 percent). Behind the growth of DC is the magnetic pull of the wired (and wireless) urban lifestyle with its social connections and employment opportunities. Other metropolitan centers throughout the nation are, no doubt, similarly growing as isolated and increasingly desolate rural America hollows out.
Creating Jobs: It's Not Rocket Science
Want to boost employment for young and middle-aged adults? Then encourage boomers to retire earlier rather than later by letting them buy in to Medicare before age 65. A new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (Does Retiree Health Insurance Encourage Early Retirement? NBER Working Paper 17703) shows that the availability of retiree health insurance leads to earlier retirement--especially among workers aged 62 and 63. Workers who are offered retiree health insurance are 21 percent more likely than those without insurance to retire at age 62, and they are 32 percent more likely to retire at age 63.
Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies
Grow Up to be Convenience Store Clerks
Sixty-three percent of all homicides in retail trade occur in food and beverage stores or gasoline stations. Convenience stores account for the single largest share (23 percent), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Can Internet Search Predict What's Next?
Apparently, yes. A study posted on the Liberty Street Economics blog (Forecasting with Internet Search Data) finds that "Internet search data can forecast the content of some economic data releases." Because most Americans (nearly 80 percent) are on the Internet, their search behavior (16 billion Internet searches per month) can be used as a predictor of their behavior, say the researchers. This is a nascent field of study, but the preliminary results bode well for the development of new ways to spot trends. The researchers cite the example of more people searching for information about automobiles, which may precede an increase in car sales.
A number of studies cited in the Liberty Street blog post show that search analysis can accurately predict financial trends. One cited study found that "searches for a firm's most popular products are better than analyst forecasts at predicting earnings surprises and the subsequent market reaction." While the blog post focuses primarily on spotting economic trends, Internet search analysis is likely to be an even better predictor of more slowly evolving demographic trends. Home buying, marrying, moving, having children--all are likely to be preceded by billions of Internet searches, and the trends in those searches are likely to become a crystal ball that can tell us what's next.
Bad News for Colleges
The Census Bureau's recently released school enrollment statistics show that college enrollment hit an all-time high of 20 million in 2010. Sounds great, no?
Not if you look more closely at the numbers. Enrollment in four-year colleges fell between 2009 and 2010, to 10,450,000--down by 11,000 students. Ok, that's a very small decline in the overall scheme of things, but there's more. The number of students enrolled full-time in four-year schools fell by a larger 199,000 to 8,486,000. And that's not all. The number of full-time students attending private four-year schools continued its downward trajectory, falling to 1,805,000--13 percent below the all-time high of 2,077,000 in 2005. Perhaps more ominous, the number of full-time students at public four-year schools also fell between 2009 and 2010, down by 121,000 to 6,680,000.
Bottom line: the growth in college enrollment is occurring only at two-year colleges and at graduate schools. The traditional college market is shrinking.
Hard Times Change Minds
A few years ago, only 43 percent of non-Hispanic whites saw a conflict between rich and poor in the United States, according to Pew Research Center (Rising Share of Americans See Conflict between Rich and Poor). That was before the ranks of the poor and almost-poor expanded to encompass nearly half the American population--including many non-Hispanic whites who once thought unemployment, loss of health insurance, foreclosure, bankruptcy, and homelessness happened only to other people.
My, how times have changed. As the Great Recession evolved from a temporary setback to a permanent condition, the attitudes of non-Hispanic whites have been transformed. Fully 65 percent now say there is a "strong" or "very strong" conflict between rich and poor in the United States--up 22 percentage points in just two years. Non-Hispanic whites are more likely to see a conflict than Hispanics (61 percent), but still less likely to see one than blacks (74 percent).
Trouble Ahead for Cable?
Cable and satellite television services are the single biggest entertainment expense for American households. And that spells trouble for the industry. In 2010, the average household spent $621 on cable/satellite television service--53 percent more than in 2000, after adjusting for inflation. Average household spending on this category increased 2 percent between 2009 and 2010 alone, despite an 8.5 percent decline in overall spending on entertainment. Cable/satellite services now rank 18th among the categories on which the average household spends the most, up from 33 in 2000.
The cable/satellite industry has gotten too big to get away with this much longer, turning itself into a target for budget-cutting consumers and lower-priced competitors. A recent Harris poll shows a large share of households looking for ways to cut their cable bill. Twenty-one percent have canceled or cut back on cable spending in the past six months, and another 22 percent considered cuts. With alternatives to cable/satellite services now emerging, the industry is headed for a haircut.
The Age of Social Security
The average age at which men claim Social Security is 63.8, according to the Social Security Administration. Forty-four percent of men take Social Security at 62--the earliest possible age. The average age at which women collect Social Security is 63.7, with 49 percent starting at age 62.
Life Expectancy Ticks Up Again
Life expectancy in 2010 continued its climb into record territory, rising to 78.7 years at birth. The government recently began to collect data on life expectancy by race and Hispanic origin, and the 2010 statistics still show Hispanics living the longest. Hispanic life expectancy at birth is 81.3 years versus 78.8 years for non-Hispanic whites.
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 Cheryl Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org.