Research has shown that financial know-how peaks in middle age--at an average age of 53, according to one study--and declines with age. Most of the research focuses on the vulnerability of aging Americans to financial scams. But there is another perhaps equally serious problem that arises from declining financial sophistication: the inability or refusal of many older Americans to understand or account for inflation.
Here is an example from a column published in a local newspaper in my area, written by a retiree with a Ph.D. no less: "If you ordered a beer at Yankee Stadium during the 1949 World Series, it sold for 35 cents. Pretty nice price, by 2012 standards at least." No, the price isn't nice. Beer is cheaper today than it was in 1949 after adjusting for inflation. Thirty-five cents in 1949 is the same as $3.35 today. You can easily buy a beer at a bar or restaurant for less than $3.35.
The inability or refusal of many older Americans to understand and adjust for inflation may play a role in the outsized anger of the gray-haired crowd toward government spending. Without factoring in inflation, everything seems to be getting more expensive, services appear too costly, wages look excessive. It's not much of a leap from that kind of thinking to, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Could blinkered thinking about inflation explain a lot of the crazy--such as the recent vote by the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee in the nation's oldest state (Florida) to lower the hourly minimum wage for tipped workers from $4.65 to $2.13? The government's inflation calculator is here. Bookmark it.
Housing Stock: Year Built
Despite the flurry of construction during the housing bubble, the percentage of the nation's 132 million housing units that were built between 2000 and 2010 is only slightly greater than the percentage built during the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Take a look at the distribution of the nation's housing units by the decade they were built...
Americans are singularly obsessed with imprisonment. No other country puts as many people behind bars. The number of people in custody in the nation's local jails and state or federal prisons more than tripled between 1985 and 2010, growing from 744,208 to 2.3 million, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. The rate of imprisonment more than doubled during the time period, climbing from 313 to 731 incarcerations per 100,000 population.
The percentage of Americans who are overweight varies surprisingly little by demographic characteristic--meaning the great majority of just about everyone is overweight, according to Obesity in America, an analysis of data collected by the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. National Center for Health Statistics.
Overall, 65 percent of the population aged 20 or older is overweight (a figure that includes the obese). There is almost no demographic segment in which the number of people who are overweight does not greatly surpass the number with a healthy weight. In fact, there are only two demographic segments in which being overweight is not the norm. One segment is "non-Hispanic other/multiple races," a group that includes Asians (48% overweight). The other is the youngest age group, aged 20 to 24 (45% overweight).
Whether you are man (72% overweight) or woman (59%), black (72%) or white (65%), middle aged (71%) or old (67%), high school dropout (70%) or college graduate (60%), rich (64%) or poor (66%), chances are you're fat.
Decline in Teens Talking on the Phone
Teens are texting more and talking less on the telephone, according to a study by Pew Internet & American Life Project. Only 14 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds talked to friends daily on a landline phone in 2011, down from 30 percent two years earlier. The percentage who talk to friends daily on a cell phone fell from 38 to 26 percent during those years.
The Mystery of a Successful Marriage
What are the ingredients of a successful marriage? According to the National Center for Health Statistics report First Marriages in the United States, one of the most important ingredients--for women at least--is a college degree. Nothing guarantees a successful (i.e. long-lasting) marriage more than having a bachelor's degree. The percentage of women whose first marriage has lasted for 20 years ranges from a low of 39 percent among those who did not graduate from high school to a high of 78 percent among those with a bachelor's degree. The relationship between educational attainment and marital success is weaker for men, but still important, with the figure ranging from a low of 47 percent among men with no more than a high school diploma to a high of 65 percent among men with a bachelor's degree.
The answer to this mystery has nothing to do with love and everything to do with money. Increasingly, and almost exclusively, economic success accrues to men with a bachelor's degree. Women who graduate from college are far more likely than less-educated women to meet and marry a man with a college degree. Money--and men's ability to earn it--is the most important ingredient of a successful marriage.
Unauthorized Immigrants: 11.5 Million
The number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States changed little between 2010 and 2011, according to new estimates by the Department of Homeland Security. As of January 2011, an estimated 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants were in the country, about the same as the 11.6 million in January 2010 (this figure has been revised upward from 10.8 million based on 2010 census weights). The number of unauthorized immigrants grew 36 percent between 2000 and 2011, from 8,460,000 to 11,510,000.
Urban Population Up 12 Percent
Although Americans tend to think of themselves as small town or even rural in character, a look at the Census Bureau's newly released classification of urban and rural populations based on 2010 census data shows how wrong they are. In 2010, fully 80.7 percent of Americans lived in an urban area. Not only are most Americans urban dwellers, but the urban population is growing faster than the rural population. Between 2000 and 2010, the urban population grew 12.1 percent, more than the 9.7 percent national growth rate and far outpacing the 7.3 percent increase in the rural population.
Many people use the terms urban and metropolitan interchangeably. In fact, urban is a much more precise definition of city life. Metropolitan areas are broad brush, comprised of groups of counties, many of which contain rural areas. In contrast, urban areas are a far higher resolution of lifestyle, comprised of census tracts or blocks that are home to at least 2,500 people. Once the Census Bureau defines urban areas (which it does every 10 years), rural areas are the remainder. Despite our overwhelming urbanity, many Americans continue to think rural. That may be because 97 percent of the nation's land area is rural. Only 3 percent is urban. But 249 million Americans are crammed into that 3 percent.
The Need For Old Buildings