American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
September 2011

Incomes Decline in 2010

1. Hot Trends: INCOMES DECLINE IN 2010

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

1. Hot Trends 

Incomes Decline in 2010  


The Great Recession was supposed to have ended in June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. But the release last week of the 2010 income statistics calls that claim into question. According to the Census Bureau, median household income fell to $49,445 in 2010–7 percent lower than in 2000, after adjusting for inflation–and that’s just the beginning of the story.


I would hazard a guess that the macroeconomic indicators on which the National Bureau of Economic Research dates recessions have become decoupled from the microeconomics of American households–thanks to globalization and the rise of multinational corporations. The Census Bureau even includes a helpful chart in its income report showing just how odd this “recovery” has been. It is the only one in modern history in which the number of workers with earnings has declined. There were 1.6 million fewer workers in the “recovery” year of 2010 than during the Great Recession itself. It ain’t over folks, and by the time the Great Recession does end we might need a new name for it. Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has taken to calling it the Lesser Depression. (For an update on how the Great Recession compares with the Great Depression, see Q&A below.)


If the politicians cannot hear the middle class crying for help in the 2010 income statistics, then we really are trapped in a downward spiral on our way to becoming a third world nation. At this point, the only thing propping open the doors of many businesses is the valiant effort by middle class families to keep up appearances by spending down their savings and taking on debt (mainly in the form of student loans). They can’t fake it much longer.


Rather than focus on the big story contained in the income statistics, the media have been tsk-tsking in knee-jerk fashion about the rise in the poverty rate–copying and pasting from the bullet points of the Census Bureau’s press release. Sure, poverty is an important problem, but its rise is perhaps the least surprising finding in the 2010 numbers. Poverty is a small part of the bigger story: the massive decline in the standard of living of the great majority of Americans. The media’s failure to report the big story gives cover to the many politicians who are intent on ignoring the elephant in the room as they fatten their wallets for the 2012 elections.


Somebody has to tell the story. Why not an obscure newsletter about demographic trends? So let’s begin at the bottom of the age distribution and work our way up.


The young. If the world is in the midst of an historic technological and economic transformation caused by the Internet revolution (it is, in my opinion), then the consequences will emerge first among the youngest adults–the pioneers in the emergent society. That’s what the 2010 income statistics show. The median income of householders under age 25 fell by a stunning 20 percent (to $28,322) between 2000 and 2010, after adjusting for inflation. This startling decline occurred despite the fact that many young adults have given up entirely and moved back home with mom and dad. The number of households headed by people under age 25 has been declining even as the population has been growing. Increasingly, the young adults left fending for themselves are the ones without parents with the resources to take them in.


The middle aged. The Census Bureau reports that a substantial 14 percent of adults aged 25 to 34 now live with their parents. Many have had little choice but to move back home since the median household income of this age group fell 11 percent between 2000 and 2010, after adjusting for inflation. Householders aged 35 to 44 did not fare much better, with a 9 percent decline in their median income. Then we get to the real horror story: householders aged 45 to 54. Their median income fell by 14 percent between 2000 and 2010, a decline second only to the one experienced by the youngest householders. The 45-to-54 age group has seen its median income fall by more than $10,000 since 2000! So precipitous has been this decline that the age group–once the nation’s peak earners–now makes only 26 percent more than the average household, down from a margin of more than 40 percent in the 1990s. The household income gap between the 35-to-44 and 45-to-54 age groups once exceeded $8,000. By 2010 it had shrunk nearly tenfold to just $841.


Older generations It might seem as though there is more stability in the older generations. The median income of householders aged 55 to 64 fell just 0.4 percent between 2000 and 2010, after adjusting for inflation–but only because they are working harder to stay even. During the decade, the labor force participation rate of men aged 55 to 64 climbed from 67 to 70 percent and that of women from 52 to 60 percent. Half of married couples in the 55-to-64 age group are now dual earners, up from 44 percent in 2000. The only seeming bright spot in the income statistics is among householders aged 65 or older, with a 7 percent rise in their median income during the decade. But again, labor force participation rates are rising in the age group, and whatever financial stability older Americans possess cannot be passed down to younger generations since it exists in the form of defined benefit pensions and Social Security and Medicare benefits–all of which have been axed or are being threatened by mad-as-hell politicians intent on cutting the deficit at any cost.


History will show, in my opinion, that the Internet is behind the upheaval in our society. But the dire situation in which the middle class now finds itself has been caused primarily by the failure of our politicians to respond appropriately to the challenges and opportunities the digital society presents.


For a comparison of median household incomes by age in 2010 and 2000, see my post in Demo Memo blog.


By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications. If you have any questions or comments about the above Q & A, contact


Thirty-seven percent of householders under age 35 have student loans.

Source: American Marketplace

2. Q & A

Update: Great Recession vs Great Depression?   


This is an update of the comparison between the Great Recession and the Great Depression published in the February 2011 American Consumers Newsletter (“Score One for the Great Recession“). In that analysis, I compared the two downturns using six demographic measures. At that time, the results showed the Great Recession to be only 35 percent as severe as the Great Depression. How have those numbers changed in the past seven months?


Let’s begin by updating the initial GDP comparison. Back in February, the government had estimated an overall GDP decline of 4 percent during the Great Recession. That number has now been revised downward to 5 percent, but it is still well below the 27 percent GDP decline during the Great Depression. Score: (5/27) x 100 = 19. Using this traditional measure, the Great Recession was 19 percent as severe as the Great Depression. (Back in  February, this calculation showed it to be only 15 percent as bad.)


Unemployment (no update) The unemployment score has not changed because the Great Recession’s unemployment peak of 10.1 percent in October 2009 still stands, as does the more expansive definition of unemployment (U-6) which peaked at 18.0 percent in January 2010. I averaged these scores against the Great Depression’s unemployment rate of 25.2 percent (10.2/25.2 = 40; 18.0/25.2 = 71; (40+71)/2 = 56). Score = 56.


Homeownership (update) Estimates of the homeownership rate have continued to fall since February, and the 2010 census found an even lower rate than had been estimated. The new numbers suggest that the homeownership rate may have fallen from a peak of 69.0 percent in 2004 to the 65.1 percent found by the 2010 census–a 3.9 percentage point decline. This compares with a 4.2 percentage point decline during the Great Recession. Score: (3.9/4.2) x 100 = 93.


Immigration (update) Since February, there has been an annual update of the number of immigrants coming to the United States, and the new number is somewhat lower. In 2010, 1,042,625 legal immigrants came to the United States, 17.7 percent fewer than during the peak year of 2006. During the Great Depression, legal immigration fell by a much larger 91.8 percent. Score: (17.7/91.8) x 100 = 19.


Births (update) Since February, there has been an annual update of the number of births in the United States. The number has fallen from a peak of 4,316,233 in 2007 to an estimated 4,007,000 in 2010–a 7.2 percent decline versus a 10.7 percent decline during the Great Depression. Score: (7.2/10.7) x 100 = 67.


Marriages (no update) No new data for this one. During the Great Depression, the number of marriages fell by 20.4 percent. During the Great Recession, the number has fallen by 5.8 percent. Score: (5.8/20.4) x 100 = 28.


Life expectancy (update) During the Great Depression, life expectancy at birth fell 4.8 years. New estimates show no decline in life expectancy, which reached a record high of 78.2 years in 2009. Score: (0/4.8) x 100 = 0.


Score Update Average the six scores and the result is 44–meaning the Great Recession is 44 percent as bad as the Great Depression. This is up from 35 percent seven months ago. The increase in the score means that, in retrospect, the Great Recession is closing in on the Great Depression in its demographic impact. But it is still less than half as severe–although more than twice as bad as the traditional GDP comparison suggests.


By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications. Questions or comments, please contact


Most renters in the South and West have a dishwasher in their home.Source: American Homes

3. Cool Research Links

To keep up-to-date on ever-changing demographics and lifestyles, check out these useful links.


2010 Census Homeownership Rates 

A few weeks ago, the 2010 census data on homeownership by age of householder were released, causing much consternation. You can access the raw data at the above link, or see my calculations at Demo Memo blog. The census found far lower homeownership rates in every age group than the bureau’s Housing Vacancy Survey (HVC) had estimated for the same time period. The overall homeownership rate was 1.8 percentage points lower in the census than in the HVC (65.1 versus 66.9 percent). The biggest difference was among householders under age 25. According to the census, only 16.1 percent were homeowners. According to the HVC, 22.9 percent were homeowners. The census numbers are, of course, the far more accurate figures. The Housing Vacancy Survey methodology will have to be revised.


What Happens After Foreclosure?

This link will take you to an informative study by the Federal Reserve Board that examines what happens to people after a foreclosure. Based on credit report data from the FRBNY/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel–a nationally representative 5 percent random sample of Americans with credit files–the study tracked individuals who had experienced the start of a foreclosure. Surprisingly, most who experience the start of a foreclosure are still in the same house two years later. Most of the foreclosed who moved ended up in equivalent housing–a single family home in a similar neighborhood.


Pew Online Update

Every year the Pew Internet & American Life Project updates the demographics of who is online and what they do there. This year’s survey–fielded in April and May–found the 78 percent majority of Americans aged 18 or older using the Internet. Among Internet users, 65 percent are on social networking sites such as Facebook. The study provides details on who participates in social networking by age, sex, race and Hispanic origin, household income, and education. The only significant differences are found by age.


Among employed blacks, managers and professionals outnumber service workers by 600,000.

Source: Who We Are: Blacks

4. Meet Your Customers

Here are five all new and expanded, one-stop resources for understanding American consumers–vital, cost-effective information in these economically uncertain times. All are available as hold-in-your-hand books or pdf downloads with links to Excel spreadsheets.

· The American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns, 10th ed. Quick and easy access is the goal of the new 10th edition of The American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns, your reliable alternative to the threatened Statistical Abstract. Designed for convenience,The American Marketplace draws on scores of government sources to give you a population profile of the United States in one handy volume. Its hundreds of tables are organized into 11 chapters covering attitudes, education, health, housing, income, labor force, living arrangements, population, spending, time use, and wealth. This edition of The American Marketplace contains the latest 2010 census data by age and sex, as well as population totals for states and metropolitan areas. The book includes attitudinal data from the recently released 2010 General Social Survey. Plus, you get the latest numbers on the changing housing market. Also included are 2010 labor force statistics, and the latest income data. The wealth chapters includes newly released information on what the Great Recession did to net worth, assets, and debts. The spending chapter reveals how spending patterns are changing.

ISBN 978-1-935775-27-0 (hardcover);

ISBN 978-1-935775-28-7 (paper); 642 pages; June 2011

· Americans and Their Homes: Demographics of Homeownership, 3rd ed. The all-new third edition ofAmericans and Their Homes: Demographics of Homeownership–the first update since 2005–is already creating a buzz in the real estate industry with its up-to-date look at homeownership and the housing market through 2010. InAmericans and Their Homes, which contains 50 percent more information than the previous edition, you get the very latest demographic data profiling the nation’s homeowners and renters–their age, income, household type, race, Hispanic origin and region of residence. You will also learn about their homes–heating, cooling, kitchen and laundry equipment, purchase price and value, housing costs, and much, much more. New to this edition of Americans and Their Homes is much more data on the demographics of renters and the characteristics of their homes and apartments. As it becomes more difficult to buy and sell houses, renting has become a viable alternative for millions of Americans–especially young adults. Americans and Their Homes shows you who rents and what they rent. Despite the turmoil of the Great Recession, most homeowners still have plenty of equity in their home. But a growing number are underwater. Americans and Their Homes: Demographics ofHomeownership reveals these trends and gives you the facts behind them.

ISBN 978-1-935775-29-4 (hardcover);

ISBN 978-1-935775-30-0 (paper); 624 pages; June 2011


· The Who We Are Series brings you, in three accessible volumes, which can be purchased singly or as a set, the facts you need about the size and characteristics of the country’s Asians, blacks, and Hispanics–the most rapidly growing segments of the consumer marketplace. In each volume,chapters examine attitudes, education, health, housing, income, labor force status, living arrangements, population, spending, time use, and wealth (in Blacks and Hispanics only).

New to the second edition of the Who We Are Series is a chapter on the attitudes of Asians, blacks, and Hispanics on issues ranging from happiness and trust in others to religious beliefs, political identification, and support for gay marriage. The population chapter includes 2010 census data showing numbers nationally and by state and metropolitan area. The spending chapter examines how Asians, blacks, and Hispanics prioritize their money, and the time use chapter shows how they prioritize their time. Also included in these volumes is the most recent information on the incomes, labor force participation, educational attainment, college enrollment, and living arrangements of Asians, blacks, and Hispanics. 

· Who We Are Three-Volume Series

ISBN 978-1-935775-37-9 (hardcover);

ISBN 978-1-935775-38-6 (paper); June 2011

· Who We Are: Asians 

ISBN 978-1-935775-31-7 (hardcover); ISBN 978-1-935775-32-4 (paper); 290 pages; June 2011

· Who We Are: Blacks 

ISBN 978-1-935775-33-1 (hardcover); ISBN 978-1-935775-34-8 (paper); 312 pages; June 2011

· Who We Are: Hispanics 

ISBN 978-1-935775-37-9 (hardcover); ISBN 978-1-935775-38-6 (paper); 326 pages; June 2011

For your convenience, all of New Strategist’s titles are available as searchable single- and multiple-user pdfs that are linked to spreadsheets of all the data tables in each book so you can do your own analyses and create PowerPoint presentations.


The 59 percent majority of Hispanic households have children (of any age) in the home.

Source: Who We Are: Hispanics