American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
January 2017

10 Questions for 2017


2. Business Tools:  



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

1. Hot Trends

10 Questions for 2017

Demographic data to be released in the next 12 months may help answer these 10 questions about vital demographic trends.

1. When will the baby bust end? Population growth in the U.S. has slowed to a crawl because of the ongoing baby bust. The annual number of births fell 8 percent between 2007 (the peak year) and 2015. The fertility rate is at an all-time low, and most childless women say they don’t expect to have children anytime soon. How long will they wait?

2. Why is life expectancy declining? Life expectancy fell in 2015 for the first time since 1993, and death rates rose for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death. The experts are wondering what’s going on. With so many focused on this troubling trend, we might get some answers in 2017.

3. Will homeownership make a comeback? The homeownership rate fell to 63.7 percent in 2015, the lowest since 1967 and 5.3 percentage points below the 2004 peak. Among 30-to-44-year-olds, the decline exceeded 10 percentage points. After waiting more than a decade for home buying to stage a comeback, will 2017 be the year we throw in the towel and declare lower rates to be the new normal?

4. What will save small town and rural America? We’re in the midst of an urban renaissance. The population of the nation’s most urban counties grew faster than others between 2010 and 2015, while rural counties lost population. Economic growth, too, is occurring disproportionately in large metro centers. Outside these hubs of activity, there’s a male employment crisis. What can small town and rural residents do to get back in the game?

5. When will Millennials marry? The median age at first marriage is at a record high for both men and women as Millennials remain single longer than any other generation in history. The economic consequences are huge and include the urban renaissance, the baby bust, and the decline of homeownership. The Millennial generation, more than any other, will determine what we will be talking about this year.

6. Is the average American getting richer? It’s been a long three years since we had an update on American household wealth. This year, the wait is over. In a few months, the Federal Reserve Board will release the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, providing the first comprehensive look at household net worth and asset ownership since 2013. The past two surveys have produced unsettling results, with a steep decline in net worth recorded in 2010 and a continuing decline in 2013. The new numbers will tell us whether American households have begun to rebuild their wealth.

7. Who voted in the 2016 election? Another important piece of the demographic puzzle will be revealed in a few months when the Census Bureau releases results from the Voting and Registration supplement to the November 2016 Current Population Survey. Shortly after the election, the Census Bureau was in the field asking a nationally representative sample of Americans whether they voted and linking answers to demographics. Was there a surge in voting among older, non-Hispanic Whites? Soon we will know.

8. Back to square one with health insurance? Between 2013 and 2015, the percentage of Americans without health insurance plunged from 20.4 percent to 12.9 percent–an unprecedented, historic decline. Are we about to see a reversal of this trend? If Republicans carry out their threat to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the percentage of Americans without health insurance is projected to climb all the way back up to 21 percent by 2019.

9. How big is the gig economy? This year the Bureau of Labor Statistics will field a long awaited and much needed update to its 2005 “contingent” workforce survey. A number of studies have revealed tremendous growth in the gig economy, a phenomenon transforming the American workforce. The BLS update, hopefully, will capture this growth and give us a better picture of the gig economy and its workers.

10. Are we over the automobile? Transportation spending may have peaked. In 2015, the average household devoted slightly less than 17 percent of its budget to transportation, down from more than 19 percent in the early 2000s. Americans are keeping their vehicles longer, increasing their use of public transportation, and adopting ride sharing with enthusiasm. This year is likely to provide more evidence of the cooling American love affair with the automobile.
Life Expectancy Falls in 2015
Life expectancy at birth in the United States fell by 0.1 year in 2015–to 78.8 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This seemingly small decline is a big deal and troubling for two reasons. One, a decline in life expectancy does not happen very often. The 2015 decline was the first since 1993, and the 1993 decline was the first since 1980. Two, unlike the 1993 decline in life expectancy–a consequence of HIV’s rapid rise to become the 8th leading cause of death–the reason for the 2015 decline is not clear.
That’s because there are many reasons. The age-adjusted death rate increased significantly in 2015 for fully 8 of the top 10 causes of death: heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and suicide. The death rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites (males and females) and non-Hispanic Black males. The death rate was unchanged for non-Hispanic Black females and for Hispanics (males and females).
While the National Center for Health Statistics’ report does not shed much light on the significance of the life expectancy decline, a New York Times story does, quoting  professor of health policy and management at Columbia University, Dr. Peter Muennig, who tells the Times, “a 0.1 decrease is huge.”
The Male Employment Crisis
The male employment crisis–defined as relatively low rates of labor force participation among men of prime working age (25 to 54)–is occurring at both extremes of the rural-urban continuum, finds an analysis by the Brookings Institution. The labor force participation rate of men aged 25 to 54 is below average in the nation’s largest cities at the one extreme and in small metros, towns, and rural areas at the other extreme.
The good news is the crisis seems to be diminishing in the nation’s largest cities, where the labor force participation rate of prime age men grew 2 percentage points between 2000 and 2010-14. The bad news is the crisis is worsening in small towns and rural areas. The labor force participation rate of prime age men fell 4.8 percentage points in small towns and 5.4 percentage points in rural areas between 2000 and 2010-14. “This suggests that a community’s level of urbanization was closely related to employment outcomes for prime-aged male workers,” says Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution and the study’s author.
“The past 10-15 years have strengthened the economic hand of many cities,” he explains, “raising demand for workers in such places, even for those with lower levels of formal skills, drawing them into jobs at increased rates.” But, he says, “those same dynamics have simultaneously disadvantaged many small towns and rural areas.” Can small places succeed? The answer may be no: “Efforts to bring jobs back to small-town America seem likely to face an uphill battle against market forces that have put jobs further out of reach for many of their residents.”
North Dakota’s Reversal of Fortune
North Dakota is experiencing a reversal of fortune, according to the Census Bureau’s latest population estimates. It had been the nation’s fastest growing state thanks to the oil boom. Between 2010 and 2015, its population grew 12.2 percent, far outpacing other fast-growing states such as Texas (8.7 percent), Nevada (6.7 percent), and Utah (7.8 percent). But between 2015 and 2016, North Dakota’s population came to a screeching halt. Well, almost. The state registered a minuscule 0.1 percent population gain as falling oil prices turned its net domestic migration from a plus to a minus–North Dakota lost 6,259 residents to other states.
North Dakota is not alone in losing the domestic migration sweepstakes. Most (31) states lost more domestic migrants than they gained between 2015 and 2016. The five biggest losers were New York, Illinois, Connecticut, North Dakota, and New Jersey. At the other extreme, the five biggest winners were Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Florida, and South Carolina.
Utah had the 10th highest rate of net domestic migration, but that’s not the only reason it became the fastest-growing state in 2015-16. Another reason is Utah’s high rate of natural increase (births minus deaths), triple the national average.
Fastest growing states, 2015 to 2016 (percent increase)
Utah: 2.03
Nevada: 1.95
Idaho: 1.83
Florida: 1.82
Washington: 1.78
Oregon: 1.71
Colorado: 1.68
Arizona: 1.66
District of Columbia: 1.61
Texas: 1.58
Steep Decline in Households with Children
In 2016, only 27.6 percent of the nation’s households included children under age 18, according to the Census Bureau. Not only is this a record low, but it is more than 21 percentage points lower than the 48.7 percent of 1960.
Households with own children under age 18
2016: 27.6%
2010: 30.0%
2000: 33.0%
1990: 34.6%
1980: 38.4%
1970: 45.4%
1960: 48.7%
Households with Disabled Members 
A substantial 22 percent of American households include someone with a disability, according to the 2015 American Housing Survey. The percentage of households with a disabled member rises from just 8 percent of households headed by people under age 35 to the 55 percent majority of households headed by people aged 75 or older…
Percentage of households with a disabled member
Total households: 22.2%
Under age 35: 7.8%
Aged 35 to 44: 11.3%
Aged 45 to 54: 16.9%
Aged 55 to 64: 25.7%
Aged 65 to 74: 33.9%
Aged 75-plus: 55.2%
One in Four Is First or Second Generation
Nearly 25 percent of Americans are first or second generation, according to a Census Bureau report. The bureau defines “first generation” as the foreign born, “second generation” as those with at least one foreign-born parent, and “third generation” as those with two native-born parents. Here’s how the U.S. population splits by generation…
Generational status of U.S. population
12.9% first generation
11.7% second generation
75.4% third-or-higher generation
Among non-Hispanics, 84 percent are third-or-higher generation. In contrast, Hispanics are almost evenly split by generation…
Generational status of Hispanic population
34.9% first generation
31.5% second generation
33.6% third-or-higher generation
The report examines the demographics of the generations, including educational attainment, labor force status, income and earnings, homeownership, and voting.
Trends in Surnames
By now you’ve probably heard the news: Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, and Jones are the five most common last names in the United States, according to a Census Bureau analysis of 2010 census data. The same five surnames were at the top in 2000 as well. The Census Bureau surname project also found…
  • 6.3 million surnames were reported on the 2010 census.
  • 11 surnames were reported by more than 1 million people–the five listed above, followed by Garcia, Miller, Davis, Rodriguez, Martinez, and Hernandez.
  • 62% of surnames were reported only once.
  • A quarter of Hispanics share just 26 surnames.
  • 87% of those with the surname Washington are Black.
  • 98% of those with the surname Yoder are non-Hispanic White.

If you think these facts are fascinating, there’s much more.

Visit this Census Bureau site and download the Excel table, “Surnames Occurring 100 or more Times.” The table lists all 160,000-plus surnames reported on the 2010 census by at least 100 respondents, the number reporting each surname, its rank, and the race and Hispanic origin distribution of those with the name. Check out your own name, your friends’ names, or names in the news. “Trump,” for example, is the 8,484 most common surname, reported by 3,886 census respondents in 2010. Among those with the name Trump, 95.6 percent are non-Hispanic White. Clinton is the 2,242 most popular name, reported by 16,263 respondents, 65 percent of whom are non-Hispanic White and 27 percent of whom are Black.
Shopping with a Cellphone
Most Americans, regardless of age, are online shoppers. Overall, 79 percent of adults have ever bought something online, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The figure ranges from a high of 90 percent among 18-to-29-year-olds to a low of 59 percent among those aged 65-plus.
Less common is using a cellphone to shop online. Nevertheless, the 51 percent majority of Americans have shopped with a cellphone, reports Pew. Adults under age 50 are far more likely than those aged 50 or older to use their cellphone to shop online.
Ever used a cellphone to buy something online
Aged 18 to 29: 77%
Aged 30 to 49: 64%
Aged 50 to 64: 36%
Aged 65-plus: 17%
Older Americans and Wearable Devices
Overall, 11 percent of people aged 50 or older own a wearable device such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch, according to an AARP survey. “Adoption among all age groups is expected to grow,” notes AARP in its technology report. Here is ownership among the 50-plus by age…
Own a wearable device
Aged 50 to 59: 19%
Aged 60 to 69: 10%
Aged 70-plus: 3%
The Housing Stock is Aging
The nation’s housing stock is aging. In 2015, the average household occupied a housing unit with a median age of 39 (built in 1976), according to the American Housing Survey. This is more than twice the median age of housing in 1975 (median age of 18, built in 1957).
The youth of the housing stock in 1975 was a consequence of the postwar baby boom, which was also a building boom providing a fresh supply of housing for a rapidly expanding and increasingly affluent population. In the following four decades, new housing has been a shrinking share of the total housing stock. Because of the aging of the housing stock, it will be many more years before new building technologies are a part of the average American home. But there’s a silver lining–growing opportunities for renovation and building upgrades.
Occupied housing units: median year built
(and age of average structure)
2015: 1976 (39 years)
2005: 1973 (32 years)
1995: 1967 (28 years)
1985: 1962 (23 years)
1975: 1957 (18 years)
Generation Gap in Attitudes toward the Environment
The 59 percent majority of Americans think “stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost,” according to a Pew Research Center survey. Only 34 percent say laws and regulations “cost too many jobs and hurt economy.” Young adults are most likely to support environmental regulation…
Environmental regulations are worth the cost
Aged 18 to 29: 70%
Aged 30 to 49: 63%
Aged 50 to 64: 53%
Aged 65-plus: 47%
Throwing A Wrench into the ACA
If Republicans partially repeal the Affordable Care Act early in 2017 through a reconciliation bill, then the following critical elements of the ACA would disappear: Medicaid expansion, financial assistance for Marketplace coverage, and individual and employer mandates. An Urban Institute study takes a look at the consequences of eliminating these provisions from the ACA with no alternative plan in place…
  • The number of uninsured Americans will more than double: Partial repeal would raise the number of uninsured in 2019 to 58.7 million versus 28.9 million under the ACA.
  • More than one in five Americans under age 65 will be uninsured: Partial repeal would raise the percentage of people under age 65 without health insurance to 21 percent in 2019 versus 11 percent under the ACA.
  • The majority of those losing insurance will be the White working class: 56 percent of the newly uninsured will be non-Hispanic White, 80 percent will not have a college degree, and 82 percent will be in working families.
“This scenario does not just move the country back to the situation before the ACA,” warns the Urban Institute. “It moves the country to a situation with higher uninsurance rates than before the ACA reforms.”
CPS Redesign Still a Problem
The Employee Benefit Research Institute is still unhappy with the redesigned Current Population Survey. The changes to the CPS questionnaire, introduced to the full sample in 2014, were designed to better capture pension income. That they did, but the changes also resulted in sharp declines in estimated retirement plan participation among workers. The declines are larger than any in the past, notes EBRI, and they are inconsistent with the steady participation recorded by other government surveys.
Last year EBRI examined the problem with the CPS redesign in an analysis of 2014 data (see the Demo Memo post about it here ). Now with 2015 data in hand, EBRI finds the problem not only continuing but worsening. Among full-time wage and salary workers aged 21 to 64, the percentage who work for an employer that sponsors a retirement plan fell by a whopping 12 percentage points between 2013 (traditional questions) and 2015 (redesigned questions). Something is wrong with this picture.
Although EBRI admits that pension income estimates are improved by the redesigned CPS, it believes something must be done to improve retirement plan participation estimates. “Currently the U.S. Census Bureau has no plans to revise the CPS,” EBRI states. “Rather modest modifications could be made within the CPS questionnaire along the lines of other federal government surveys to improve the retirement plan participation estimates. Until that time, any person or organization using the data or those reading analyses from the data need to be aware of the issues with the data.”
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


Percentage of adults aged 15 or older who live in the principal city of a metropolitan area, by race and Hispanic origin…

Asians: 48%
Blacks: 49%
Hispanics: 44%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 25%


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Percentage of adults aged 15 or older who live in the suburbs of a metropolitan area, by race and Hispanic origin…

Asians: 49%
Blacks: 42%
Hispanics: 50%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 57%